This Is The Best Thing I’ve Done for My Sanity This Year (And You Should Do It, Too)

We should all do absolutely nothing productive way more often — for sanity's (and productivity's) sake.

In the middle of October, I stumbled across a deeply upsetting video on Science of Us that reported that more than half of Americans don’t take all of their paid vacation days. HALF. Doesn’t the thought of all those days going to waste — days that could be filled with day trips to farm-to-table eateries you’ve been dreaming about and hours spent putting a dent in the stack of magazines that’s gathering dust on your kitchen table, all while being PAID to not be at your job — make you shed a tear?

I shook my head when I saw this only to realize that I still had 10 of my 14 vacation days for the year to take. And it was nearly the end of October. I refused to be one of those humans who dumped their paid leave days into the very sad, overflowing (imaginary) landfill for wasted vacation days, but the thought of taking time off sounded more stressful than relaxing. WHO WAS GOING TO DO ALL THE THINGS?!

But then another sign from the relaxation gods came to me via my earbuds on a SEPTA commute home. I was listening to the podcast Girlboss (if you’re not subscribed, you should be), and this episode featured an interview with Anne-Marie Slaughter, who served as the first female Director of Policy Planning for the U.S. State Department under Hillary Clinton. So yeah, she’s a boss. And she credited much of her success throughout her career to knowing when to drop everything and chill the f*$& out. She takes something insane like six weeks of vacation every year. That’s how important rebooting is to her, and clearly it pays off. (She also starts every workday reading fiction in bed for as long as it takes her to drink her first cup of coffee. She’s my work-life balance idol.)

With the exception of a three-day trip to New York for my birthday, I hadn’t taken the time to reboot for a full year. I got home from said SEPTA commute, screamed at my never-knows-when-he-can-get-off-of-work boyfriend that I was going on vacation, with or without him (can you tell I was … stressed?), then hunkered down at my computer, ready to scour the oh-so-overwhelming internet for vacation deals.

A week and a half later, I was posted up in a lovely Kimpton hotel, fall foliage staring at me through the window, with my dog and my boyfriend (who was, thankfully, able to get off of work) by my side, watching Keeping Up with the Kardashians in the middle of the damn workday. In the hopes of being just as successful as Slaughter in my work life, I continued to do nothing of importance (and certainly nothing work related) for the next six days straight. To give you a taste of just how much nothing I did: I sat in a park and did nothing but watch people for an hour while occasionally telling my barking dog to stop acting like a psychopath. I spent at least 15 hours walking. Just WALKING, with nowhere to go. I sat on a chair and waited for wine hour to happen at my hotel, because I HAD NOTHING ELSE TO BE DOING AT 4:49 p.m. And let me tell you, doing nothing for days on end was the best freakin’ decision I’ve made for my sanity all year. (Side note: Did you guys miss me?)

There is just something to be said for taking a few days to remind yourself that life will not end if you don’t update Twitter or respond to an email or … do ANYTHING at all. And if you, like me, are constantly worried about taking a few hours off of work, let alone a few days, note that science shows it could pay off for you in the end. Breaks, including vacations, can make us more productive, more motivated and give us better perspective, all of which pays off once you settle back into your desk chair.

Plus, work burnout isn’t just bad for everyone who has to listen to you complain about your job; the stress of being burnt out at work is also bad for your health. As the American Psychological Association’s David Ballard told Forbes, “A lot of burnout really has to do with experiencing chronic stress.” And, well, stress is terrible for you when it comes to both your body and mind.

When I got back to work, my coworker said I had a glow, my brain felt 30 times lighter, and I swear, knocking items off my to-do list felt 167 times less painful than it had before I’d left. And I had IDEAS, which are hard to come by when your brain is maxed out. All of these side effects of not letting my vacation days go to waste have resulted in a much saner me this week, and my hope is that the perspective I gained by stepping away for a few days will continue to keep me sane throughout the year. (If not, I’ve still got four more vacation days to kill.) So consider this a PSA from one perpetually stressed, not-usually-so-sane work junkie to another: If you have vacation days that are just begging to be used, use them (even if it’s just to stay home and watch Grey’s Anatomy in your pajamas!). I know it might sound like a more stressful idea than a relaxing one, but I promise, your sanity and your boss will both thank you later.

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