Why You Should Still Use Your Vacation Days During Quarantine

By taking time away from work, you take much-needed recovery time for yourself.

Taking a day off

Before the coronavirus pandemic, you may have been tempted to use your vacation days to see friends and family or book a one-of-a-kind adventure far away from home. But how often did you actually use your vacation days during the best of times? More than half of Americans don’t use all of their vacation days, and even if they did use days, they felt guilty in doing so, according to the 2018 U.S. Travel Association’s annual report. Economies around the world are reeling and many people have been furloughed or laid off due to the coronavirus pandemic. But for the people who still have jobs and are working from home, should you feel any guilt toward taking a day (or two, or three…) of vacation?

Should you use all of your vacation days?

The short answer is yes, in fact, you should be taking vacation days, pandemic, or otherwise. By taking time away from work, you take much-needed recovery time for yourself. “Vacations can lead to a better mood, fewer physical health complaints, less exhaustion, and more focus,” Cathleen Swody, PhD, Director of Assessment & Founding Partner at Thrive Leadership tells Reader’s Digest. “Not taking vacation days has been associated with increased risk of mortality over time.” Here’s a bit of scientific proof that shows vacationing more helps boost your career.

A vacation at home

You might be wondering what the point in taking a vacation day is when you’re working at home because, well, you’re already at home. Even though it might seem counterintuitive, you should still take your vacation days even when you’re working from home. Instead of viewing a vacation as going somewhere externally, perhaps you could view it as going somewhere internally. “This requires viewing ‘vacation’ not as a big trip to another destination, but as dedicated time to reinvigorate,” says Swody. “The current work environment is stressful. The boundaries between work and non-work have blurred. Lately, many employees have told me about how hard it is to disengage from work. People need more than a weekend to reenergize. Vacation will give employees the needed distance to gain perspective and objectively view work challenges.” Here are 25 ways you can relax that don’t cost a cent.

Even though some states have started to open back up and select businesses have reopened, it doesn’t mean everyone is going back to work right away. “It has become clear that this is not a one month work from home hiatus. It could last months or longer. This means that we will all need time to refresh and regroup and in some ways, more now than ever before,” Samantha Ettus, founder and CEO of Park Place Payments, tells Reader’s Digest. Here are 13 everyday habits that could (and should) change forever after coronavirus.

However, now that you know it’s generally OK to use your vacation days when working from home, it’s important to be mindful of how and when you should use your vacation days. “There are two factors that stop me from telling you to take a week off right now,” Ettus adds. “The first is that the economy has taken a hit so it is likely that your company is trying to survive this downturn and you are part of them getting there. The second thing is that you don’t want to spend all of your vacation days now. Save the bulk of it for when you can travel again or even enjoy your local restaurants, museums, parks, and friends again.” Here are 18 things you can still do to support your favorite small businesses.

Using vacation days wisely

Life before coronavirus looked like catching up with family and friends over dinners at restaurants, having a drink at a bar, seeing a new movie, diving more into your hobbies, and even going to concerts and shows. Now that everything from restaurants to theme parks to Broadway shows has been canceled, what do you do? “It’s a little hard to shake up your routine when you are bound to your home. You don’t want to use too much of your vacation now when your options are so limited,” says Ettus. “But to maximize your ‘vacation,’ allow yourself to do those things you don’t normally have time to do because work and cleaning and childcare get in your way. Plan out the days—a double feature or a great podcast or hours of uninterrupted reading time. Make sure you spend time doing the things that feel like little luxuries.” This woman is baking her way through quarantine—here’s why you should, too.

Portrait of a young woman relaxing and reading in her Downtown Los Angeles apartmentlechatnoir/Getty Images

How to maintain work/life balance

When you commuted to the office, you clocked in at 9 a.m. and then left at 5 p.m or when all of your deadlines have been met and then headed home to unwind after a day of work. When working from home, it might be harder to force yourself to stop working. “When working from home, there is a temptation to completely blur your work/life commitments and it is your job to create some separation. It comes down to routines and boundaries,” says Ettus. “Wake up at roughly the same time each day and create a healthy morning routine for yourself. Start and end work at around the same time daily. Just because you are working from home doesn’t mean it is an invitation to binge-watch during the day or work on a presentation all night long. If family dinner is at 6:30 each night, stick to it, and to ensure that you are present each day with the people you live with, set aside 90 screen-free minutes each night.” Here’s what this mother learned when she cooked as a family every day during quarantine.

Finding joy in working from home

When working from home in quarantine or under a stay-at-home order, it can be hard to find the bright side when instead you’d rather be spending your vacation day going to a friend’s wedding (which has also been postponed) or on a short trip. So what activity can you do at home? “First, the keyword here is activity. What hobbies or projects can you actively engage in that will make you happy? In which activities do you become so engrossed that you lose track of time?” asks Swody. “These types of activities will improve well-being much more than passively laying around. The act of choosing how time is spent is also psychologically beneficial, especially when so much feels beyond our control.” Pursuing new hobbies or rediscovering old ones is just one of the 17 small silver linings to help you feel better about being in quarantine.

Beyond looking into new activities, Swody recommends physical exercise as “exercise distracts our minds from work, improves how we view ourselves, and even can influence neurotransmitters with antidepressant qualities,” she says. She adds that exercise is critical to physical health. Swody also recommends connecting in a social way to friends and loved ones, like writing a handwritten note, having a video call, or even checking on someone who can be lonely. Being able to breathe in fresh air is something that shouldn’t be taken for granted, either. “Try to get outside (safely) as much as possible, even if it is sitting your balcony or porch or a quick stroll,” says Swody. “Time in nature is associated with lower stress, improved attention, and better emotional well-being.” Here are 50 of the most beautiful quotes about nature to help you feel more connected to the world around you.

What not to do when taking a vacation day at home

It might go without saying, but Swody recommends that “as tempting as it is, try to avoid working during vacation.” While the lines between work and home have blurred, that doesn’t mean your vacation day and your workday need to crossover as well. “Engaging in work activities will fire up psychological and physiological systems that are activated at work, minimizing the benefits of time away from the ‘office,'” she says. Transitioning from commuting to the office to commuting from your bed to your home office can be hard. Here are 14 work from home memes that are hilariously accurate

Madeline Wahl
Madeline Wahl is a Digital Associate Editor/Writer at RD.com. Previously, she worked for HuffPost and Golf Channel. Her writing has appeared on HuffPost, Red Magazine, McSweeney's, Pink Pangea, The Mighty, and Yahoo Lifestyle, among others. More of her work can be found on her website: www.madelinehwahl.com