Unplug, recharge to achieve balance

A week without social media. A week without Netflix (TV). A week without phone calls. A week without checking work emails. Sometimes you need a break to rebalance the scales of your life. We recommend that when people visit Alpena on vacation, they do the same. Unplug. Disconnect to reconnect.

I recently returned from a week-long Central American vacation in which I didn’t keep up on work while away. This was the first time in four years that I’ve done this and it was desperately needed. What did I notice while unplugged? Most working Americans work too much. Work is prioritized above those things that matter most in life like family relationships, personal health, and creating moments filled with joy for the simple things. I believe most of us think we’re doing a pretty good job with work-life balance but in reality, we’re not. We confuse being able to keep up on work, while also making all of our personal obligations, for work-life balance. This is not work-life balance.

What happens when you push the pause button on the technology that follows you with invisible threads throughout your day? The threads that twist and tangle with every new request, question, complaint, project report, schedule appointment. Sometimes you trip over these threads, get meeting times mixed up, forget to respond to emails because you’ve had 25 news ones ping your inbox since lunch. American’s are a culture of hard working stock but we’re also over-worked and it is mostly self-imposed, creating a cocoon of threads around our lives that we feel we can’t break away from.

According to Project Time Off, Americans only use about half of their vacation time. Over the last 15 years Americans have been taking less and less vacation. Of America’s 658 million unused vacation days, 222 million of them were just lost. That’s an average of two full days per American worker. By giving up this time off, Americans are effectively volunteering hundreds of millions of days of free work for their employers, which results in $61.4 billion in forfeited benefits, according to their ongoing studies.

Noted as reasons for not taking time off include fears that you will be seen as replaceable if gone for any amount of time, returning to a mountain of work, cannot afford a vacation, and perhaps the most disturbing reason why Americans are not taking time off – they don’t feel supporting to do so by their boss.

Not all of America has paid vacation time, but even those who are self-employed or are working two or more jobs to pay the bills, need to take a break once in a while. Working too much is a subjective metric that is different for everyone but not taking time to recharge your batteries leads to burnout, lowered productivity and presenteeism (at work but not fully engaged), and health implications such as sleep disturbances and stress related ailments which exacerbates lifestyle disease.

Being a country founded on an eternally tireless work ethic, it is no wonder we prioritize work above personal health and family. Why is it so important to take a break? What happens when you unplug? Whether it be for a day or a week the benefits of pushing pause flower almost immediately.

Taking a break from work stress can lower cortisol levels (cortisol is the king of hormones, spikes when our bodies are under stress, and can negatively affect other hormone levels leading to illness), invoking feelings of peace and calm. Project Time Off reports that those who plan vacations cite improved relationships with their significant others, improved relationships with their children, improved productivity and professional success, improved feelings about their job, improved physical well-being, improved feelings about their employer, and improved relationships with family and friends. That’s a lot of improvements.

Pushing pause on technological devices that often places your workplace at your fingertips is critical to a full vacation-induced recharge. There is no right or wrong way to take a break. Maybe it is just for a day, maybe it is a week at home. Whichever method, choosing to leave work responsibilities off your packing list is key. Stuff them in a box, put them on a shelf, and tell them to wait until you get back.

Fortunately for those who live in Northeast Michigan, we are surrounded by break-worthy opportunities. Take a walk at Chippewa Hills without your smart phone. Go for a paddle on the river with no specific end time, and just see where the current takes you. Maybe taking a day off in the middle of your week and enacting a “technology black-out” (where you don’t answer emails, text messages, or phone calls — unless it’s an emergency, of course) is all you need.

Let’s not continue to add to these statistics. Let’s take a break and enjoy the rejuvenating powers of a Northeast Michigan recharge.

Mary Beth Stutzman’s Inspiring A-Town runs bi-weekly on Tuesdays. Follow Mary Beth on Twitter @mbstutz.