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Learn to take a guilt-free vacation: How life without paid time off damages our well-being

Learn to take a guilt-free vacation: How life without paid time off damages our well-being

Asleep at the desk
CNN reports that new studies show that lack of sufficient time off can lead to coronary disease and heart attacks in both men and women.
 
Asleep at the desk
Hammock

It's no secret that America is one of the worst offenders of offering little vacation time.

Part of the problem is that American companies are not required by law to offer paid vacation time for their employees (as compared to most European countries that offer at least 20 up to 35 paid days off a year).

In fact, according to a report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 40 percent of Americans, or 55 million people, don't get paid vacation or sick time.

If you are one of the lucky ones to receive vacation time, you might not even take it: 57 percent of workers have unused vacation time at the end of the year, averaging at 11 days.

Vacation-smaycation, you say! I love working my tush off.

 It took me several years to realize how frustrated I was, caring about employers who ultimately didn't care about me.

CNN reports that new studies show that lack of sufficient time off can lead to coronary disease and heart attacks in both men and women. If neglecting to take time off can possibly kill us and we complain of being overworked all of the time, why is this something we Americans don't take more seriously?

Exactly one year ago, I dove headfirst into the freelance pool. Though this past year has been speckled with financial anxiety and forgetting to put on real pants, my overall mental and physical health has improved in more ways than I could have ever imagined. It took me several years to realize how frustrated I was, caring about employers who ultimately didn't care about me.

My last full-time, salaried job gave employees five vacation days a year. Those five days included sick and personal time. In other words, if I got sick or had to go to the DMV or dentist, there went my time home for Christmas. Scared to call in sick when I was very ill — and angry that I was put in such a position — I found morale at work in constant flux and myself in tears over the fact I wouldn't be able to see my family.

I used to tell myself that I was still young and had to "pay my dues," but having worked salaried jobs that often required anywhere from 10 to 12 hour days with little vacation time for most of my twenties, it finally dawned on me how unhappy I was and that I needed to make a change before I woke up one day at 40, miserable and exhausted.

We should no longer feel guilty for taking a vacation or even running an errand during work. Time off is not a privilege, but a right, and you should always remember that.

So I made the change. I went freelance. I know not everyone is able to make the leap to self-employed, and I feel tremendously lucky (don't worry: I don't have the same health insurance benefits and 401k plan as you), but regardless, we are all due the necessary time to see our loved ones and cultivate a life beyond work. Our health and the health of our loved ones depends on it. We all deserve time off. Period.

 We should no longer feel guilty for taking a vacation or even running an errand during work. Time off is not a privilege, but a right, and you should always remember that.

Since I left that last salaried job, I've taken over 40 vacation days — with many afternoon errands and naps in between — after years of neglecting both my sleep and personal tasks. And though I often stand anxiously by the mailbox waiting for a freelance check to come in, I'm making more per hour, which helps me to actually afford trips to see family and friends for the first time in my adult life. For me, this is worth its weight in gold.

In addition the lack of legislation for vacation and sick time, according to Forbes Magazine, America is one of three countries not to offer maternity or paternity benefits. When countries like our neighboring Canada offers 50 weeks of paid maternity leave and Norway offers 44, the good ol' U.S. offers a big fat zero.

So how do we change this? How do we get time back to have babies, raise them and spend time with them and the other people we love including ourselves? I wish there was a concrete answer. Sometimes we just have to take jobs that don't offer vacation or sick time, and even if we do have it, sometimes we can't take the time off.

My best advice is no matter what your work situation is, try to remember to take time for yourself. You only have one shot at this life. Remember to prioritize you and your loved ones first.