Physicians: It Is Time To Take Back Your VacationMar 23, 2022
While coaching a physician recently, we started talking about his upcoming vacation. He and his wife had planned a two-week trip to the South Pacific, and it sounded incredible. As he spoke about his break, he talked about all of the thoughts coming up for him about his trip. Then, he used two words that summed up the whole experience: Anticipatory anxiety. I completely understood everything he was thinking about his upcoming vacation in those two words. I even felt it. I’ll bet you do too.
When my wife and I begin discussing the next upcoming family vacation, my first thought is usually: “How will this affect my schedule?” The effects on my patient availability, productivity, and compensation do not trail far behind. I can be unbelievably excited about the idea of the vacation, but the initial planning stages can be daunting.
I can’t help but be excited about the time away once my schedule is blocked and the trip is planned. The upcoming trip gives me so much to look forward to and allows me to power through the arduous days knowing that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. As the time off approaches, however, the thoughts begin to shift. I begin to consider the work that will build up while away. What will the InBasket look like when I return? Will my partners address my patient’s issues the same way I would address them? Will my time away be a burden for my partners?
When the time for the trip finally arrives, it can feel like a harried mess preparing to leave, packing, and getting to the airport in a timely fashion. The stress of getting through airport security and ensuring that the kids have eaten and used the bathroom before boarding the flight feels immense. But then, we are there. Vacation has arrived, and it feels glorious. For a few days, at least.
I find the first few days of vacation to be the most relaxing. About two days before our departure, I start dreading returning to work. I wonder how much work will greet me when I return to the office and how badly my schedule will be backed up. I worry about the looming onslaught of work. Mornings may be spent playing with the kids in the pool, but my thoughts soon go to what time my Medical Assistant leaves for the day and when I should log into the EMR so that I can address any pending messages. I think: “Thank goodness I brought my work computer so that I can take care of this today.” Or: “I don’t want to be like the other physicians I have seen on Facebook that come back from vacation with over one thousand pending messages.” My brain begins to ponder: “Was going on vacation even worth it?” I anticipate the stress of returning to work the following Monday when I will likely tell myself: “If you hadn’t gone on vacation, today would have been much easier.”
As I read back over these thoughts, one thing is clear: My brain is lying to me. My client’s brain was lying to him. Your brain is lying to you. Of course, vacation is worth it! Vacation is a time to recharge, rejuvenate, and reclaim your joy. Vacation is a time to remind yourself that you too have needs and that this is part of the way to meet those needs. Vacation is a time to reconnect with your loved ones. And lastly, it replenishes empathy and compassion so that you can be more present and available for your family, friends, and patients.
So what can you do to mitigate some of the vacation stress? Here are some tips:
- Vacation is essential. Remind yourself that vacations are crucial to your relationships and your health. Time away makes you a better partner, parent, and physician.
- Plan. Plan for the financial impact. Plan for the time away from patient care. Plan for the thoughts that will try to steal you away from remembering that the vacation is a gift.
- Be creative! Some people like to work on vacation, some schedule time to get things done before their first day back, and others prefer to deal with everything after they return to work. There is no one right way to do these things. Figure out what works best for you.
- Everything is a choice. You get to choose how you plan your trip, how long you are away, and whether or not you do work on vacation. Most importantly, don’t judge yourself for these decisions. If working on vacation gives you peace of mind, that is totally fine. If not working on vacation gives you the most benefit, rest, and relaxation, that is OK too. Your way is the right way.
- You’ve done this before. Sometimes we treat vacations like they are a new concept, and we convince ourselves that this time is different. The truth is that you have done this many times before, and you will do it again. The work will be there when you return, and you will tackle it all in due time. “Monday is just another Monday.”
- Anticipatory anxiety is a joy stealer. Don’t trade guaranteed joy today for the possibility of misery tomorrow. Enjoy your time, family, and friends because this moment won’t last forever.
- When you return, take time to recall the memories from your trip. When the stress of the day begins to take over, take a breath and reflect on the details of the vacation. Remember the sights, smells, sounds, and activities. The vacation may have ended, but the memories are yours to keep. Those visualizations will help the vacation last longer.
- There will always be things that you cannot control. It does not matter if you are on vacation or in the next room. You can handle anything that comes your way.
This is a process. I have not mastered enjoying every part of vacation. In fact, I’m not sure I have mastered any of them. I have, however, made enormous progress. I have learned to prepare for the things that bring up the most significant stress. I have also learned to be more present and enjoy all of the details. On my most recent vacation, one of my favorite memories is sitting by the pool reading with my 7-year-old daughter. Those small moments will be with me forever. Thank goodness I chose not to believe all of the lies my brain tells me. I could have missed out on some pretty unforgettable moments if I did.
Are there parts of vacation that bring up stress or anxiety for you? How can you prepare and plan to make taking a vacation more enjoyable? How can you make the rest, relaxation, and joy of vacation last longer?
Are you interested in creating more balance in your life? I want to invite you to check out my FREE TRAINING. Click here to get: How Busy Physicians Can Stop Trying To Escape Medicine And Start Living Their Best Life Today.
With this training, you will learn about the five most essential techniques physicians need to stop feeling stuck, burned out, and trapped in medicine. You will also learn how to discover what you truly want in life and how to get it!
PS. I get a lot of inspiration from music lyrics. Many people use inspiring quotes (and I do too), but music really speaks to me. I hope you find inspiration in the songs too.
Sheryl Crow - Soak Up The Sun
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