One of the hardest things I’ve done this year is take a break—a real one. I’m not talking about just time off from work, but a break from my everyday life. Time without being super responsive to every email, call, family need, etc. Why is it that I came to the realization only once I was away that it shouldn’t be this hard to take a break.
In February of this year, I was offered the chance to go on a week-long, women-only mindfulness excursion to Bali, Indonesia. This Mastermind retreat was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to connect, learn, and grow in an exotic location across the globe. And I almost turned it down. At the time the good fortune arose I had five active business deals, two young children to take care of, and what felt like a gazillion other things going on in my life. Taking an entire week away did not seem like a viable option—certainly not to the other side of the planet.
You might feel the same way. It’s hard enough to fit all of our obligations into 24 hours without taking a break from it all. The very idea of taking a vacation like this one was so incredible and yet so stressful. I could feel my head and heart—my left brain and right brain—bickering over whether or not I should go on the trip.
But in the end I said yes.
I made arrangements for my clients and my husband so that my business would continue as usual and my family would be well while I was away.
Three weeks later I boarded the plane to Bali.
Four hours into the flight, I fainted. I kid you not, I got up to use the restroom and woke up on the bathroom floor. I picked myself up then fainted again seconds later as I walked back to my seat. Not the most glamorous start to my trip. Wounded vanity aside, passing out was a signal that something was seriously wrong. There I was heading to a wellness retreat in one of the most beautiful places on earth and I had worn myself down so much with anxiety that I literally hit the ground.
Not only is this unhealthy, it’s just plain unacceptable.
Feeling intense stress about taking a break from your life is not uncommon in American culture, unfortunately. We’ve been indoctrinated into the idea that when it comes to our careers and getting ahead in business, more is always better—more hours, more deals, more competition. How are we supposed to keep up this level of productivity and not take a true break from it all?
As I started to share the news that I was taking this break, some people wondered how I could possibly be away from my children for a whole week. People’s reactions ranged from shock to judgmental comments to pity for my husband. Really?!
Going into my time away, I thought the source of my stress was the thought of leaving everything behind, when the real problem was the mere fact I felt this way in the first place. I was anxious about taking a break, when taking this time for myself was precisely the solution to the anxiety I had created.
It was then I realized I owe it to myself to take time for myself AND make the most of it.
My Bali experience taught me not just how to take a break, but how to use the time away to actually become a better person, and I’ll never look back. These breaks or the time to yourself is meant for less intense thinking and less doing! Here’s what else I’ve learned:
Plan ahead, then leave it all behind
It’s okay if the thought of taking a break from your everyday routine causes some anxiety, but take control of it before it takes control of you. I had four weeks to plan for my trip to Bali, and I used the time to tie up loose ends at work, set my husband up for success, and arrange extra childcare for the week. After that, whatever happens is out of your hands. Embrace it. And give your spouse/partner/teammates some credit—they can handle it. Remember, the best leaders know how to delegate.
One of the reasons I almost opted out of the retreat was at the time I had three business deals nearing completion and I didn’t want to do anything to jeopardize them. In the end, I was able to detach and I made a conscious effort to unplug during the trip. And guess what happened? Two of the deals ended up falling through for reasons entirely outside of my control, anyway. Had I turned down the opportunity to get away, it not only would have been for the wrong reasons, but it would have been nonsense. Unplugging is a critical step to making the most out of your time off. It’s not a true break if you’re doing everything you would normally do in your work or personal life.
Once you’ve reached your vacation (or stay-cation) spot, take a step further. I find being in nature really helps me self-reflect. There’s something about physically having the earth beneath your bare feet that makes you feel more grounded and connected to the earth. Bury your feet in the sand; dip your feet in the water; walk around barefoot. Just be still in nature. I guarantee it will make you feel calmer and it may even enhance your sense of wonder. Be open to this gift.
As a parent and sometimes in business, we’re trained to believe putting ourselves first is selfish, but actually, it’s anything but. As the cliche goes, you can’t take care of others if you aren’t taking care of yourself. It’s so true! Taking time to focus on myself and myself alone for a whole week completely reinvigorated me so that when I got back home, I had boundless energy and a renewed sense of appreciation for those around me. My family, friends, clients and coworkers deserve to get the best version of me, but most importantly—I deserve the best version of me.
You deserve the best version of yourself too.
Keep things in perspective
If all else fails, think of the bigger picture. Your work, your family, your passion projects—and yes, your bills and to-do lists—will all be there when you get home. Remind yourself that everything will be fine as often as you need to, but I think you’ll find that you’ll use this mantra less and less with each passing day. Believe me, I did.
It may seem counter-intuitive, but taking time away from your job and your family can actually make you a better leader at work and at home. My experience in Bali taught me that it’s okay to say yes to taking a break. It’s okay to say yes to taking time for yourself. And it’s okay to admit that yes, it may seem scary at first.
No matter where you spend time with yourself, recognize it for what it is: a time to recharge your energy and reinvigorate your soul. Simply be present and it may just transform your life.
Erin Coupe is a real estate executive and guest columnist for Catalyst. This article originally appeared on Coupe’s LinkedIn.