We all recognise the importance of a healthy work-life balance, but many of us still find it hard to switch off, even while we’re on holiday.

A recent survey revealed that while the three main reasons for going on holiday were to spend time with loved ones (50%), to get some rest and relaxation (34%) and to take a break from work (22%), over two thirds (69%) continued to check their work email, with just under half (44%) admitting to checking in once a day or more.

Why do we continue to act in ways that we know are not good for us and what is the impact of a false break vs. a real break on our emotional well-being?

Karunavira, Senior Trainer at the centre for Mindfulness Research & Practice at Bangor University, says:

“Being on constant high alert triggers the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. Cortisol normally disappears within five minutes, but the habit of continually checking emails keeps re-triggering its release. Continual presence of cortisol not only subdues our immune system exposing us to illness and muscular problems but also impacts our ability to think clearly and make objective decisions”.

“Holidays are supposed to give our systems time to reset. If we don’t take these periods of rest and recovery, our high alert response to threat becomes our norm and we go into what is called ‘driven mode’. We experience a fear of taking our foot off the gas because we believe it will all collapse. We are enticed from the point of view of safety - it feels safe to be operating at such a pace, we feel effective - but in reality we are not seeing the bigger picture”.

Here are some tips to help you switch off

Literally switch off

Make a commitment to switching off: turn off your phone, leave your device behind and maybe even consider booking somewhere to stay without wi-fi? Feelings of guilt are a common problem when it comes to switching-off on holiday, but removing the option to work will help.

Good planning

Begin your holiday with a sense of accomplishment and peace of mind by tying up major loose ends before you go. Create a to-do list of achievable tasks and enjoy ticking them off. You’ll set off on holiday ready to recalibrate with your mind out of the office.

Karunavira also stresses the importance of giving responsibility to others: “Good planning will enable you to switch off. Give responsibility to someone else and let go of worrying. That way you are building capacity, both for your work and for yourself.”

Set limits

If you do need to catch up on some work, dedicate a proper period of the day to it (perhaps when you are most productive?) and take yourself away somewhere. Don’t do two things at once by absentmindedly checking emails on the beach or in restaurants. Make a choice between relaxing and working, divide your time and be disciplined about it.