“I’m on Annual Leave in a different room of my house”, so read the Out-of-Office message on my email last week. I had booked a flight to go and see my parents at the end of the semester, but obviously that wasn’t happening anymore. With my line manager adamant that I’d take the days off anyway, I found myself faced with 5 days of having to entertain myself at home.
In the past couple of weeks, work had become ‘something to do’, something to give structure to the day. Marking, creating online teaching materials, responding to student emails, it made me feel there was a reason for sitting at a desk. I didn’t have to think of stuff to do. There simply were tasks I had to do.
With that taken away and nowhere to go, I am sad to say that I dreaded my ‘holiday’. How would I be able to actually turn it into a holiday when I’m in the same place as where I work? How would I be able to separate my holiday from everyday working life?
It wouldn’t be possible to ‘not go in that room’ as it’s also the bedroom. It’s not possible to ‘not use my laptop’ as I use it to communicate with friends and family. The only thing I could do, was to make a mental switch. And that, as it turned out, taught me something about the powers of the mind.
Normally, when I come home on a Friday night, I may have physically moved to a different location, my mind often is still very much at work. When my husband makes the after-dinner coffee I sneakily grab my phone to check if anyone has emailed me. I know I shouldn’t, but “what if a student needs me”. In that situation, moving myself from my university building has made no impact on what my mind does.
Clearly, ‘going away’ is not a guarantee for switching off. The switch needs to come from within. So that’s what I practiced during my “staycation” last week. I repeatedly told myself that I was on holiday and that there was nothing I had to do. I sat in the sun in the garden, and all sorts of thoughts entered my head (“I should be reading now”, “I could start a MOOC”, “It’s lunchtime”) but I decided to not follow up on a single one of them.
Apart from sitting in the sun, I had solitary runs, spent ages eating and talking over our meal, I didn’t watch tv once, and carefully observed all the plant life in our garden. And just one supermarket trip that felt like an adventure.
I’m pleased to say that this morning when I woke up, I dreaded ‘taking my mind back to work’, as it had experienced a proper break.
Dr Mirjam Brady Van Den Bos is a Lecturer for The School of Psychology and Course Coordinator for our Level 1 methods courses.