Vacation Guilt Is Normal, But Here's How To Set It Aside & Enjoy Yourself

Even if you look forward to your annual vacation for weeks before you finally find yourself on the sandy shores of paradise, truly relaxing and enjoying your time away from your routine and work can be another story entirely. It takes some adjusting for the mind, body, and soul to switch gears and enter vacation mode — and you may find that part of what arises for you is guilt, which is definitely not an emotion you want to be wrangling with during your time off.

The reasons for feeling guilt while on vacation can vary, but typically, it can be attributed to feelings of disappointment in relation to your expectations around the trip and not enjoying it as much as you should (via WebMD) — or because you're unable to turn off your work brain and feeling distracted by the ongoings of the office (via Inc.). But with some intention and mindfulness work, you should be able to set aside vacation guilt and enjoy yourself on your next trip.

Shift your mindset about rest

If you tend to think of time off as unproductive or frowned upon, that's your first step to address. Rest is sometimes the most productive thing we can engage in. If we aren't regularly resting and rejuvenating, the quality of our work will suffer — plus, life is simply about more than just work, and you deserve a vacation as much as anyone else.

Shifting your mindset from one of pressure and guilt to one of expansion and openness takes practice, but it can also be done right away in each moment. If you catch yourself thinking about the office or reaching for your phone to check emails while on vacation, pause, refrain from judging yourself, and switch gears. Notice where you are and take in the beautiful surroundings. You could even pick up a beach read at the airport and dive into a novel to keep your mind occupied in another story that has nothing to do with your home routine.

If you're finding that your vacation isn't unfolding the way you envisioned, practice finding the good in each situation and remember that giving yourself this rest from work isn't anything to be ashamed of. Don't let rainy days, booking hazards, long waits, a cranky travel partner, or worries about work bring you down too much. Chances are, you paid good money for your break, and you don't want to let a negative attitude alter your experience.

Choose an affirming mantra

Choosing a mental reminder to keep the flow of your thoughts on a chosen frequency — regardless of what's happening externally — can make your vacation even more enjoyable than you envisioned (via Arootah). Something like "Everything is always working out for us" or "I am deeply rejuvenated" can keep you looking for confirmation that those words are true. You could keep your mantra in your mind or even write it down in a travel journal for an extra reminder.

As you keep your mantra or positivity affirmation at the center of your experiences, take note of each time it occurs in your reality. This could be as simple as getting a great table at dinner or staying healthy throughout your trip. If you keep your focus on the positives rather than on feelings of disappointment or guilt, chances are, you'll be better able to deeply relax — and hey, maybe you'll even be looking forward to returning to work once you're truly rejuvenated.

Make plans for engaging activities

If the mindfulness and mantras aren't totally cutting it and you find yourself worrying about the happenings of work while you're away, scheduling a few fun outings on your trip could be the perfect distraction. Scuba diving, kayaking, hiking, concerts, shopping — whatever you know will take you out of your mind and into the present moment is a good bet. When we're busy with something that requires a new skill or is just a true thrill, chances are, we won't be able to focus on worrying or the work left back at home. So even if the guilt is tricky to escape, you should still book the vacation — according to Web MD, a 2005 study from the Marshfield Clinic in Wisconsin found that women who don't go on regular vacations were two to three times more likely to be depressed. 

In a sense, you're setting boundaries with yourself by not allowing your eyes to be glued to your phone or to bring up work with your vacation party. Setting an intention for your trip, like connecting with your kids or seeing a certain tourist site, can also hold your attention and keep your energy flowing in the right direction. Soothe any guilt that arises about not meeting that goal in any given moment, and then focus on your intention once again.

Don't get too caught up in itineraries

Another reason you may experience vacation guilt is if you're too firmly rooted in sticking to your itinerary. You may feel guilty if you don't get to everything you planned to, and you may also feel guilty if you weren't really present because you were too consumed by the itinerary. Either way, you could miss out on the true joy of vacationing.

As The Discoverer suggests, try allowing for space to exist within your plans for the unexpected and wondrous. While having some must-dos and must-sees is totally understandable and encouraged, leave room for your intuition to take you to unexpected places. Try to be flexible in other areas as well — maybe your vision for the perfect vacation wardrobe didn't pan out, but your vacation hair is turning heads. Focus on the good.

Sometimes, vacation guilt can hang on even after you're back home, even if you did hit all the sights you wanted to see. Maybe it's due to the workload sitting on your desk when you return, other duties left unattended while you were gone, the amount of money you spent, or feeling like you didn't enjoy yourself as much as you should have. Feel the emotion and do your best to release it. If you remembered to focus on the positives throughout your trip, then you'll likely be in a relatively uplifted mood when you return — even if external circumstances weren't exactly what you expected.