The report is due at noon on Tuesday and you still need to put together a slide deck for Wednesday’s meeting but you also need to get ready for the manager’s presentation even though you haven’t seen the final numbers and you definitely cannot forget about the birthday lunch you promised the team but you have the peer review coming up that requires ... GAAASP! Sometimes, you just need to remember to breathe. Instead of focusing on how to manage stress at work, learn how to better rejuvenate in your time off.

What are you doing?

Do you know how to relax during your time off? Of course! Sip a fruity drink by the pool. Hike in a national park. Visit relatives. Well, maybe not those relatives. Still, it may not really matter what you do during your break, it’s what you don’t do that can make a difference. Refilling your tank is more than just taking some time away.

An Employee Confidence Survey by Glassdoor found that among U.S. workers who take a vacation, three out of every five said they did some work during their time off, and some 20% were contacted by a supervisor about work. A similar study by Visier found that 61% of respondents checked in with the office at least once a day.

In order to reap the most benefits from taking time off from work, you need to actually take a break. It’s hard to return fully refreshed if you never switch off in the first place.

Use it or lose it

A study by the Mind Body Center at the University of Pittsburgh found that vacations and other forms of leisure not only lower your blood pressure, they also help you feel more positive overall. Unfortunately, the positive effects of a vacation may fizzle out as soon as two weeks after returning to work, and you’re back to the same emotional state you were before.

Thus, it’s vital to find ways to refresh ourselves at the end of every week, if not every day. If you’re having trouble figuring out how to manage stress at work, you may need a new approach. Unwinding isn’t just what is typically considered relaxing: watching TV, reading a book or taking a long bath. 

Certainly those types of activities can help, but not everyone can shut work out that way. You may be lying on a beautiful beach, but your brain is still thinking about how you’re going to get that big project done in time. 

Get busy

Instead, distract yourself; dive into an activity that will get your brain focused on something new. Take model making, for example. When you open the box, you concentrate on separating all the tiny pieces without breaking any. Then, you carefully assemble, sand, paint and sand again. During the process, your mind is figuring out how you will accomplish all the different steps. And that expense report that needs filing? It’s not even on your radar when you’re relaxing with purpose.

Get smart

Your alternate activity doesn’t need to be a physical project. Consider learning a new skill such as painting, brushing up on your high school Spanish or finally learning how to play the piano. Yes, they all require mental work, but it’s probably completely different than your day-to-day job. 

Get active

It doesn’t need to be a mental distraction, per se; physical activity is a helpful way to detach your brain from work stressors, too. Meet up for a tennis match with your friends, play soccer with your kids, go on a bike ride or do some yoga. Being physically exhausted can be mentally rejuvenating.

Vacation often

It’s not just what you do or don’t do during your time off, but how often you are taking it. A study published in the National Library of Medicine found that taking frequent vacations led to not only healthier, but longer lives. Indeed, skipping your annual vacation just once can increase your chance of developing heart disease, researchers found. And those who didn’t take a vacation for several years? They had a 30% higher risk of having a heart attack. 

It doesn’t seem to matter how long your time off is, either. A Japanese study determined that taking a three-day trip not only reduced participants’ levels of the stress hormone cortisol, but they also felt less stressed. Bottom line: You don’t need a month-long sabbatical to feel refreshed; a week away appears to be just as restorative as two.

The key, then, is to schedule frequent breaks. Many companies seem to be recognizing the benefits of well-rested employees and now offer unlimited or generous paid time off. Some are even more serious about their employees getting out of the office. 

Lehi, Utah, based Chatbooks, for example, has mandatory time off — every employee must take at least one continuous full week off every quarter. That’s not all. Everyone in the company also takes two weeks off after Christmas. President Dan Jimenez says it’s the chance for everyone to disconnect and recharge.

Extra benefits of downtime

Even if you’re not thinking about the office, taking a break can make you more productive. In a survey from Korn Ferry, 80% of respondents said a breakthrough idea hit them while on vacation. Experts agree, when you return to work, you have more fresh ideas, energy and enthusiasm. 

Fast break

Of course, most of the year, you need to work if you want food, shelter and clothing. And to afford that nice vacation. Fortunately, you can reap restorative benefits of time off in just a few minutes during the workday. Consider it putting on a bandage until you can go to the doctor’s office.

For years, scientists have been telling us that sitting at a desk all day is bad for our physical health. To counteract that, you can simply stand up regularly; even better, move around. But there’s more than physical benefits to getting to our feet. A Stanford research study found that simply taking a walk boosts creative thinking, while you’re moving and for a period after.

So, even if you’re on a tight deadline, going for a quick walk around the block — or even on a treadmill — may help you be more innovative when you return. The study found that those who took a walking break produced twice as many creative responses than their sedentary counterparts.

During the workday, take regular breaks — once every couple of hours, at least. Even if you only have 15 minutes, get away from your desk. Talk to a coworker in the breakroom, play a video game or solve a word puzzle. The small accomplishments release serotonin in your brain, giving you a quicker — and healthier — boost than your diet soda.

Special circumstances

If you work from home, it can be even more challenging to mentally check out for regular breaks. Learn more ways to avoid burnout and stay productive in your virtual office on the KSL Jobs Resource page.

Time off not helping to reduce your stress? Maybe it’s time to find a new job altogether. Search KSL Jobs for current listings based on your education, experience and desired salary.