Our Reading Lives

I Took an Anti-Burnout Reading Vacation (And You Should Too)

Leah Rachel von Essen

Senior Contributor

Leah Rachel von Essen reviews genre-bending fiction for Booklist, and writes regularly as a senior contributor at Book Riot. Her blog While Reading and Walking has over 10,000 dedicated followers over several social media outlets, including Instagram. She writes passionately about books in translation, chronic illness and bias in healthcare, queer books, twisty SFF, and magical realism and folklore. She was one of a select few bookstagrammers named to NewCity’s Chicago Lit50 in 2022. She is an avid traveler, a passionate fan of women’s basketball and soccer, and a lifelong learner. Twitter: @reading_while

My value is rooted deeply, solidly, into my productivity. I find it difficult not to multi-task. Sitting around doing nothing is what’s most likely to set off the worst of my anxiety. My brain believes that doing nothing is wasting time. Keeping my hands busy is what keeps me from falling over an edge.

But this winter, work was been extremely busy, and I’d been living on a tightrope of burnout. My irritation was growing, the weight in my chest was building, I felt exhausted and worn out. I was behind on reading and my body was hurting. So I took two days off of work, creating a four-day weekend for myself: an anti-burnout readathon vacation.

And then, like any normal person looking to relax, I set up some rules.

I know, I know — what’s less vacation-y than rules? Maybe if your brain isn’t a productivity-motivated monster on hyperdrive, you can’t relate, but if I didn’t set up these rules, by Monday morning I would have been thinking, “Okay, this is supposed to be vacation, but I should probably check my email, right?” Or, “I haven’t moved in two days. Am I being lazy? Should I go do a bunch of errands?” Or “I should check Twitter, right?” and then fast forward to me still reading about the possibilities of nuclear war four hours later.

So. You get the idea. As sad as this may be, I needed rules to keep myself from burning out on my anti-burnout vacation.

The Rules

  • Sleep in.
  • I will watch the news at night with my partner but I will not allow myself to doom-scroll on Twitter during the day.
  • One yoga session a day, even if only a ten-minute stretch, your body will thank you.
  • Every morning, shower and get dressed into comfy clothes but don’t stay in your pajamas.
  • I have a list of books I want to read, but I will not pressure myself to read faster or worry about falling “behind.” As long as I am reading, I am doing the plan.
  • Keep anti-stress lotion close.
  • Take at least one, pampering, lovely bath.

The goal, in sum, was to relax, but to not give my anxiety brain any room to yell at me for trying to relax. Getting dressed, yoga, even just the presence of rules, helped to tell my brain: we are not being lazy. We are doing what we need to do, what we planned to do today.

I didn’t always follow the rules. The news was pretty active, and a couple people wanted to debate me on Twitter and Instagram. But I resisted (and was pretty proud of myself for doing so). Maintenance finally came during my readathon to fix the closet shelf that fell on me a few weeks ago. On the Monday, I was so wonderfully relaxed that I missed my virtual therapy session, and then was anxious about that for at least an hour. And on Tuesday, anxiety started rising as my brain started remembering that this was not in fact my life now, and that I’d be at work again the next morning.

But you know what? It helped. I took the time on the first day to do a deep-stretch yoga session that felt amazing. The other days, I just did short little stretching sessions. I didn’t doom-scroll. I read all through the day, and at night I was able to fall into quality time with my partner, watching old seasons of The Amazing Race and playing Mario Party. I read a ton, every day, but it’s still been a while since I sat down with a book and didn’t get up until it was finished.

Cat photo by Leah von Essen.
The biggest fan of my readathon was my cat, Ms Nellie Bly, who loved the amount of time I was willing to spend snuggling on the couch.

Between social media, the global pandemic, panic-inducing world news, and our own anxious brains, burnout is constantly chasing us around. I needed this. And maybe the rules feel like overkill. But they weren’t to limit myself. They were to give me permission. They were there to say, “This is our plan. There is nothing lazy about this time you are taking for yourself. You have to do this. It’s on your list.”

Most of the time I save up all my vacation days for big trips abroad or for visiting family over the holidays. I return from vacations just as physically tired as when I left (but emotionally boosted and happy). Taking this staycation, just me, my apartment, and a pile of books, did me a world of good. It pressed a little “reboot” button in my brain. It was magical and soothing — and I highly recommend it.

Take a day that’s just for you. Go to the museum, and take your time. Sit in bed all day and write. Spend a day baking. Walk to a favorite spot in the park and read until you’re tired. Set up the rules that will help you partition this day away from the rest of them: that will give you the permission to put productivity aside for 24 hours, without needing a holiday or event or some other reason. Preventing burnout is all the reason you need.

The world around us is a hurricane. It’s not selfish to carve out a day, or two, that will replenish your mental strength, keeping your feet grounded and strong for the hard days ahead. Give yourself this gift. I did, and it was wonderful.

Wanna get away? Take that reading vacation up a notch and book yourself a stay at a literary Airbnb.