At the end of July I spent a week away to see my family. I've been back at work (well working from home) for a week now, and wanted to take time to reflect on that.
In early March, I was discussing with my family about how it would be nice to take some time off over Easter. I last saw them at Christmas and it seemed like a good time to have a break and visit. The pandemic put an end to that idea of course, and even though I was realistic with my expectations (not thinking that the virus would have been "sent packing" within 12 weeks or similar such nonsense from an incompetent government), I didn't appreciate the steady decline in my mental health that would occur without the usual types of contact and ways of living and working.
I've said before that I was fearful of being confined in my home, but that I adapted to a new routine that I was happy with, before recognising that despite this adaptation I was experiencing burnout.
I like to think that I am good at self-monitoring – it is unlikely that I need someone to tell me that I'm doing too much. But while I am sensitive to my state of mind, I am not as good at taking sufficient action. Back in June I decided to try not to work flat-out from daybreak to the early afternoon, and had some success with breaking up my day with exercise. By July, however, that habit hadn't taken hold properly and it was hard to compel myself to leave my desk to run – there was always something extra to finish first.
Eventually I told someone I was struggling a bit and arranged to bring a planned week's leave forward. By this point, it was over six months since I'd had a week off. I was excited about this prospect and immediately felt myself relax a bit.
I didn't have any plans except to stay with my parents and see my young niece and nephew. I thought I'd be quite lazy, just resting and recuperating. But with my niblings 1 living at my parents for the week, there was no rest whatsoever.
Despite each day being exhausting, and having little time to myself to recover, by the time I returned home after a week I felt refreshed. I didn't much want to return, but didn't feel particularly bad by the time I had unpacked.
Monday morning was probably the biggest challenge for me. You have probably experienced the same thing: you wake up, realise that it's a workday and don't really feel like it. Added to that for me lately is a slight dread of opening Outlook. This is always what sets the tone for my day or week, and the idea that there was a miniature disaster in the preceding week that I need to fix has become an annoying fear. Fortunately that didn't happen; before long I was back into my normal work routine, getting stuff done and feeling pretty good about it.
By the end of the week as I write this, I still feel the benefits of my time off. That week of what used to be normal helped me to recover a bit, and reminded me of the various things in life that exist apart from work.
I spoke about my break when I got back to work. The person I spoke to is very supportive and keen to help where they can. We tried to work out if there was anything that we needed to do to prevent me from risking more burnout or just jumping straight back in to six months of constant work. I couldn't think of anything I could have done differently given the pandemic and restrictions on travel, or on how I check in with myself. But one thing I am hoping to do is to see people more often, if the situation permits, and I am tempted to work out how much remote work I can accomplish from my relatives'. Besides that, I will take more breaks throughout the day, get my work done as I always do, but not be afraid of leaving something until the morning if I've done enough for the day.
I'm publishing this as part of 100 Days To Offload. You can join in yourself by visiting https://100daystooffload.com.
A lovely word I heard to describe nieces and nephews ↩