Avoiding Burnout in the Age of COVID-19

Plans rarely stay the same and are scrapped or adjusted as needed. Be stubborn about the vision, but flexible with your plan.

—John C. Maxwell

Avoiding Burnout with a summer of cancelled plansThe summer of 2020 is turning out to be the summer of canceled plans. By now you’ve surely heard plenty of stories about all sorts of vacations—weekend trips, long-term getaways, and everything in between—that have been called off thanks to the coronavirus. Maybe you’ve had to cancel your own trip. (I’m in that boat myself: I had to shelve my own plans to travel to London with some family and friends to see the world premiere of the new James Bond film. As a hardcore Bond fan, I found this cancellation to be especially painful!)

We all need to step away from our day-to-day lives—and our jobs—from time to time. The many benefits of vacations have been well researched over the years. In our personal lives, for example, vacations can make us happier, less stressed, and more creative. In our professional lives, time off is one key factor in maintaining a healthy work–life balance. As managers, we need to encourage our employees to take time off for themselves. As managers, we also need to lead by example and be sure to take time off for ourselves, too.

Many people like to use at least some of their vacation time for travel. Exploring new places (and new cuisines and new cultures) or visiting far-off family and friends are some of my favorite ways to spend my own time off. Unfortunately, though, COVID-19 has taken most travel off the table for the time being. 

Just because we can’t go anywhere, though, doesn’t mean we don’t need the benefits of vacation. I’m not thrilled about current circumstances, but I find that changing my outlook and doing my best to focus on the positives (rather than the negatives) can be really helpful right now. You’ve heard the old sayings “Make lemonade out of lemons” and “Play the hand you’re dealt,” right? Well now I think it’s time to combine today’s sour citrus and terrible cards into something appropriate for today’s COVID-19 climate: 

“Find creative ways to relax and take care of yourself when your options are limited.” 


Reimagine “Destination” Vacation

I love to travel. I’m a curious person.

—Hilary Swank

It is astonishing just how much information is at our fingertips these days. Since the pandemic hit, more and more cultural institutions and tourism-oriented organizations have posted new performances and tours online, most of which are free. Why not leverage that access into an experience that combines a “traditional vacation” with a “staycation”?

Avoid burnout and reimagine your vacationStart by thinking about where you’d like to go. Did you already have plans (now cancelled) to visit a certain place this summer? Or is there a particular destination on your bucket list? An online search for “[location] virtual tour” will yield enough hits to get you started, and before you know it you’ll be following a series of links down the rabbit hole and will encounter more options than you can count. Here are just a few possibilities:

(Thinking of the big trip I had planned for this past spring, I just did a search for “London virtual tour” and landed on this amazing page. I would be happy to drop everything and spend hours exploring the many links there! But these blog posts don’t write themselves, you know . . .)

If you don’t have one particular destination in mind but still long for some kind of getaway from your everyday life, consider the American tradition of going on a road trip. Because of regional and statewide travel restrictions and quarantines that are in effect right now, hopping into a car and hitting the road for an actual road trip might not be feasible for you. But perhaps you can reshape your concept of a “road trip” as something that works under current travel restrictions. In addition to “driving” famous routes throughout the world, there’s also the option take a “literary road trip” through books (either fiction or nonfiction).  

Keep in mind that visiting a place virtually doesn’t make it a bad place to visit in person once travel is open and safe again. In fact, doing some research and taking a virtual trip somewhere now can actually make you more prepared for an actual trip later—which means that later trip will be all the more enjoyable!

Relax Closer to Home

I do quite a bit of traveling. But sometimes I just want to stay at home!

—Judy Blume

It’s important to point out, though, that travel (virtual or otherwise) isn’t a necessary component of a restorative break. Sometimes just being away from your usual routines (including work) is all you need to fully enjoy your time off. Here are a few ideas for fun mini-breaks:

  • Relax Closer to HomeAre you a foodie? Treat yourself to takeout from your favorite restaurants—or maybe even splurge on an extravagant meal from a special-occasion place. Or if you like to cook, take some time to learn how to prepare a cuisine you love (or one you’ve always wanted to try). The Internet is bursting with online cooking courses and recipes (many of which are free), and you can get even the most esoteric ingredients and equipment delivered straight to your door. (I know someone who is currently baking his way through Thomas Keller’s Bouchon cookbook, with recipes from Keller’s famous bakery by the name in Napa.)
  • If you enjoy being outdoors, look around for nearby locations that would make for good day trips. Even with social distancing and capacity restrictions in place, there are lots of places (particularly state parks) that rent bicycles or canoes or kayaks. And of course, you can always avoid the hassle, stress, and cost of renting equipment and instead just hit the trails on your own two feet. 
  • Spa services are a destressor favored by many (including yours truly!), but if they aren’t possible in your area right now, try a DIY approach. A long bath with candles and a face mask (and maybe some bubbles, too!) can be very relaxing. (Search for “diy spa day” to get ideas for how to make your own masks and other spa treatments from ingredients you probably already have in your kitchen.)

Take Care of Yourself

Self-care is the non-negotiable. That’s the thing that you have to do. 

—Jonathan Van Ness

Take Care of Yourself and Avoid Burnout There is no single “right” way to take a vacation or to enjoy your time off. Whatever works for you to help you relax, destress, and just take a break from your usual routine is the best solution for you. 

Want to take a (virtual) trip somewhere far away? Great! Prefer to go on short outings near your home? No problem! Want to sleep as late you as want and spend your day curled up with a book or binge-watching Netflix? Awesome! 

Whatever you decide to do, be sure to do something. Dealing with all the challenges that this pandemic has brought to our personal lives and our professional lives hasn’t been easy. Now more than ever, though, it’s critical that everyone takes time for themselves. When it comes to taking time off, anything that helps restore you is a totally legitimate option.

I’m always on the lookout for new ways to relax and rejuvenate during my time off—and during this time of limited options, I bet that lots of my readers are too! If you have any creative ideas for how to vacation, destress, and avoid burnout, please share them in the comments!

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