A psychologist explains why people shouldn’t feel guilty taking time off from work during the pandemic

While the boundaries between work and life are blurrier than ever, many are realizing that their busiest days are still disguised as “leisure time” because they’re working from the comfort of their homes. This new work-life balance, or lack thereof, is causing some employees to be hesitant to cash in on their hard-earned vacation days.

Yahoo Life Mental Health Contributor Jen Hartstein shares ways why taking time off is more vital than ever.

“We're at this very weird time where work and life are blending all the time. And for many we feel like it's not the right time to take time off,” she explains. “Maybe we aren't going anywhere, we’re not traveling, so we kind of figure, ‘Why bother?’”

However, it’s important for us to take time off because “the more space we create, the better and more rejuvenated we come back to the office and to work,” she says.

“While our work has been a little bit more flexible, we might actually feel guilty asking [for time off],” Hartstein says. “We might feel like maybe we don't deserve it, or maybe we're not owed it, and yet we’re still working harder than ever. For most of us, we’re probably even working more.”

Hartstein says many of us are missing out on the natural breaks that went away with our pre-pandemic routines. The built-in downtime that comes with commuting to your job or socializing with co-workers now turns into time spent working at home.

Hartstein suggests that we try intentionally recreating these moments of downtime that we used to rely on.

Recreate a makeshift commute

“We've lost the commute time, where we might be getting our head in the game. We've lost the commute time home, where we can relax and prepare to walk into our homes,” Hartstein says.

“If I am taking the subway and I’m listening to a podcast or listening to a book, and that's my normal, then maybe I do kind of sit and allow myself that time and then jump into the workday,” she explains. “Whatever's going to help you recognize that you have a little bit of time to yourself is really what we want to aim for so that we can find the balance and feel more engaged and invested over the day.”

Schedule in some natural breaks

The same thing goes for the natural moments of respite that come with grabbing a cup of coffee with a co-worker or chatting about TV shows between meetings. Hartstein says it may help to purposely take a beat and walk away from your computer for little spurts like you would in the office.

“We are working more consistently and we were working harder. So create some structure in your day to build that in and allow yourself some breathing room, it’s OK,” Hartstein explains. “We are allowed that and we need it in order to be more efficient.”

What about taking vacation days?

While a feeling of guilt may come out of asking your employer for vacation days at a time when we can’t travel, Hartstein says it’s actually more important than ever to take time off.

“During stressful times, it's really important for us to create some space between work and life,” Hartstein tells Yahoo Life. “The more space we create, the better and more rejuvenated we come back to work.”

Create a vacation from home

Since many of us are not willing to get on a plane or we can't go to other countries because of travel restrictions, right now we have to really think outside the box and be creative,” Hartstein explains. “So think about what can you do in your neighborhood or in your town to create a vacation at home.”

One idea Hartstein brings up is leaning into a virtual trip and exploring vacation spots online. “A lot of travel sites are creating interactive ways to learn about different countries online, as are museums around the world,” she says. “So there's lots of ways to get the culture and the experience, even though you can't go there.”

Hartstein suggests devoting different days to immersing yourself in other cultures to mirror the feelings that come from visiting a new place. Maybe you and your loved ones plan an “Italian day” where you learn all about Italy online and then make Italian dishes together, or a “Thai day,” where you explore and learn about Thailand.

“It just takes a little creativity and a little time on the computer and you can really learn and figure out how to create something fun even though you can’t physically go to the places we want to be,” Hartstein says.

Whatever you do, she says the important thing is that you find ways to make the most of your vacation days so that you can return to work refreshed.

“It’s summer for many of us, a time when most of us take vacation, and yet we're not because it's such a weird time,” Hartstein says. “We need to take the time. It's good for you. It's good for your brain. It's good for your body. It's good for your relationships. So recognize that you're working hard. That also means you get to relax hard, too.”

For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow along at https://news.yahoo.com/coronavirus. According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC’s and WHO’s resource guides.

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