Planning Your Joys

Contributed by: The Very Rev. Dr. Caroline Carson

Did you know that May is Mental Health Awareness month?

We have all probably heard, often, and have been encouraged mightily that we should take care of ourselves. It’s obvious. Data almost anywhere you look shows us that time off and vacations help increase overall health, both mentally and physically. This when we also know that one in five Americans struggle with mental health of some sort. Longer hours and not taking enough time off / away can make us feel like we’re really never away from work. That is cited as being detrimental to health in general because it makes it more difficult to mentally detach from work. I’ve heard colleagues (and myself) say “I need a vacation from my vacation” and “I need a day or two to be able to actually begin to relax and by then, my time’s up.” Sometimes, the days off are filled with errands.

According to Sorbet, a company that helps businesses manage Personal Time Off (PTO), “even Americans who get PTO aren’t really using it.

An average of 55% of PTO went unused in 2022, compared to just 28% in 2019 before the pandemic began. Men, in general, tend to take about 10% more of their allotted PTO days, compared to women….” And “Compared to high-income workers, lower-income workers with allotted PTO take 52% less. In terms of age, workers aged 55 and older use 51% more of their allotted PTO than workers in the 21 to 34 age group. The younger workers also have fewer PTO days.”

My Mental Health: Do I Need Help? (National Institute of Mental Health)

Mental Health Care Matters! (National Alliance on Mental Illness)

Many times we might hear all this and say “yes, but…” and we know what needs to be done before we can take any break. But, we are encouraged to take our time off and so we set boundaries. Often, personally, I play the give & take game, shifting that day off I worked through and tacking it onto a future break. For me, that has worked VERY well and allowed me to explore, travel, and rest when needed without getting bored. I’m fortunate that I can and do plan for that, but it’s different for everyone. Sometimes we look at others’ protective boundaries and might think “wow, harsh”, but I’ve always believed that selfcare is NOT a one-size-fits-all deal. We need to do what we feel called to do regarding our own mental health settings and no one can tell us how we “should” do it. Time off does not always take the shape of a vacation. Time off does not always mean resting. Time off looks completely different if you have a family, are bi-vocational, are single, have debt, have health concerns, are an introvert, are an extrovert, love/hate conferences, are an over-achiever, have pets, are in school, don’t enjoy travel, or have an emergency arise, etc. We can plan and take our days off and may still not end up refreshed or fulfilled. So, I began a few years ago, not only planning my time off and occasional actual vacations, but planning my joys.

MY joys! I’ve spoken about this to several of you and seen many of us do it.

What does that look like? Completely different for each person!

For me, the joys might look like photography, a lunch with colleagues, taking a bike ride, finely chopping rosemary, praying with an icon, watching “B horror” movies, an office bag of Doritos, taking a 15-minute “field trip” around our grounds, or perfecting the fine art of porch-sitting on my rocking chair while watching the yard bunnies chomp on weeds! I’ve even run from the church to the rectory, throw my stuff on the dining table, and dive into a 45 “nap” (asleep or not, but lying down) between work things.

Whatever it is for you, this post is simply a reminder to plan your joy—to encourage you to do it, and then even to infuse your work days with it.

Take your time off and make that time off, friends, but also plan your joy. Maybe it’ll all even out 😊