Using your annual leave in lockdown may seem foolish at first thought, but mental health experts say it might be just what people need to combat stress and burnout.
On Thursday, New South Wales chief psychiatrist Murray Wright urged people to look after their mental health in lockdown.
Dr Wright described the mental health effects of the pandemic as “the most sustained and serious stress that many of us are going to face in our lifetimes”.
People need to have a plan to manage stress, and monitor and review it regularly, he said.
In response, the Australian Medical Association’s New South Wales president Danielle McMullen backed the idea of taking time off work even if you’re stuck in lockdown.
“The idea of annual leave during the pandemic is a good one,” Dr McMullen told The New Daily.
As millions of locked-down Australians work from home, and essential workers risk their health to keep society running, everyone “is working just as hard, if not harder” than before the pandemic, she said.
“It’s amazing how draining it can be,” Dr McMullen said.
So, how can you take a pandemic holiday while in lockdown?
“Have a week off, even if it’s to sit at home with your feet up watching Netflix or just having a bit more time to go for a walk out in the park, pottering about in the garden, cooking, learning a new hobby,” Dr McMullen said.
“There are plenty of things you can do at home that are enjoyable and having that week off work or a couple of weeks is still a really sensible thing to be doing.”
Dr McMullen noted that not everyone has the luxury of being able to take annual leave, but said it is important for Australians young and old to stick to healthy routines as much as possible to prevent dips in mental health.
“I think it’s really important that all of us keep trying to look after ourselves, from the mental and physical health perspective despite the lockdowns, and simple things that people can be doing day to day is still trying to keep as much routine as possible,” Dr McMullen said.
“Just because you are not commuting to work or you’re not going out to go to the gym, it is still important to do simple things like setting an alarm every day, trying to get some physical activity, getting out for some early morning sunshine.”
Working during a pandemic is “much more stressful than usual. You’ve got work stress added with that worry about being out in the community and disconnected from loved ones”, Dr McMullen said.
Remaining connected with friends and family, despite the novelty of Zoom calls wearing off, is incredibly important, she said.
‘Still worth the holiday’
Perth videographer Julian Rosario was expecting to be on holiday at his family’s house on the Gold Coast and visiting his old home of Melbourne in August.
After missing his chance to travel home last year due to COVID-19, Mr Rosario had taken a month of annual leave in early July.
But three weeks later, he was destined to spend his month’s holiday stuck in Western Australia as lockdowns hit across the country.
Despite not being able to leave his state, or see his family for the first time in two years, it was still worth taking the mental holiday instead of working, Mr Rosario said.
“It’s felt like less of a holiday and more of a time to focus on things you’ve been putting off,” he told The New Daily.
“I’m super grateful at the same time, for the time to focus on mental health, time to shut off, and without distractions.”
Dr McMullen said that if she is still locked down for her annual leave booked in September, she will be enjoying a pandemic holiday of her own, including catching up on rest and gardening.
“If I can’t go anywhere, it’ll be about still getting up at a reasonable time every day,” she said.
“I’ll potter about in the garden, I’ll do a bit of baking, try and prep ahead and maybe get a few slow-cooker meals done and in the freezer for when I’m back at work.”