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How to Reduce Your Pre-Holiday Stress

3 simple tips to give you a zen start to your holiday.

Key points

  • People sometimes make long lists of items to complete before taking a vacation. This can lead to stress before and during the vacation.
  • Instead, identify the most urgent tasks to complete before the trip and focus on accomplishing them.
  • Taking a half day before leaving and committing to not working during the holiday can make the experience more enjoyable.
Photo by Ethan Robertson on Unsplash
Source: Photo by Ethan Robertson on Unsplash

You may look forward to your holiday for weeks, months, and sometimes even years. Yet when it comes around, stress tends to skyrocket. You push yourself as hard as you can before you go away. Then, when you come back, you jump straight back into work in full force. This is a recipe for disaster — and for burnout. You need to learn how to manage stress in an effective way, both before and after your holiday. If you don't, you'll end up losing the benefits that a holiday is meant to give you.

Let's start with how to manage stress before your holiday. If you're like me, you might create an super ambitious to-do list for all the things you want to wrap up before going away. Often, this list has a month's worth of work rather than a week's. Yet you convince yourself you can get it all done that final week before your holiday. You also believe that you will feel so much better for doing so. Newsflash: you won't!

Why? Because your stress levels will skyrocket in that final week before your holiday. You won't only be wrapping up your work but probably making final holiday arrangements as well. You'll try to work almost up to the minute the taxi arrives to pick you up to take you to the airport. You might even try to squeeze a few final emails out through your phone at the airport. Two words: Just don't.

It's not worth it. You'll end up so frazzled and stressed boarding the plane that you'll barely even notice you're about to go on holiday. It will take days for your mind to calm down, and by that time half of your holiday might already be behind you. Your body might have taken such a big hit in that final stressful week that it might fall ill after your adrenaline and cortisol levels crash. That means you'll spend the majority of your holiday nursing yourself to health rather than enjoying yourself fully.

So how do you stop this from happening? Here is what I recommend:

1. Identify the most urgent things to do before your holiday and do only them.

One of the biggest causes of pre-holiday stress is trying to get as much done as possible before you go away. In reality, you should be getting less done than your other weeks so that you can start to wind down for holiday mode. That's why you should only identify the urgent things to do — and let the rest be. The rest can wait.

2. Give yourself at least half a day before your holiday to get ready for it.

That means no work, no agenda items, and no rushing around. This half-day is for you to start to unwind so that you can start calming your mind down and getting into holiday mode. It will also give you time to finalize your packing and start getting excited about the holiday. Do not go straight from the office to the airport, or have 15 to-dos to complete on the day you start your travels. This is guaranteed to increase your stress levels and prevent you from enjoying the start of your holiday.

3. Set your out-of-office — and stick to it.

For the first three years, I ran my business, I checked my email during holidays. I had an out-of-office but I still felt like I needed to check just in case there was something urgent. Yet there never was. And I ended up burning out. When I went to the doctor to ask for help, she asked: "When was the last holiday you did absolutely nothing?" I couldn't remember — and that's when I knew I had to be stricter on myself.

Now, I put my out-of-office on a day before I travel and I don't check it once when I'm on holiday. I delete the email app from my phone to make this easier for me. Does the world come falling down when I don't check my email for one or two weeks? No, it does not. In fact, it becomes a happier, more fulfilling place as I then come back to work fully recharged and excited to get started again.