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Vacations Help Combat Healthcare Burnout

Vacations Help Combat Healthcare Burnout

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As a busy healthcare professional, you are at serious risk of developing burnout. Recent research published in the Journal of International Medicine found that the current burnout rate amongst healthcare workers is 49.9% and that 56% of nurses consider themselves burned out. 

This is largely due to work overload, mismanagement, and long working hours. Left untreated, burnout can cause medical errors, reduce your efficiency at work, and leave you feeling disconnected from your professional life. 

Dealing with burnout can be tricky. Workplaces that experience high burnout rates are usually caught in a vicious cycle of stress and exhaustion, high employee turnover, and short-staffed departments. 

Manage your stress and improve your health by tapping into the restorative power of nature. Taking time to unwind with an outdoor vacation can help you recover from a busy period at work and give you renewed purpose when you return.


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Recognizing Burnout

Learning to recognize the early signs of burnout is key if you want to enjoy a long, happy career in healthcare. However, if you’re a busy professional and care deeply about your patients, you probably put their needs, thoughts, and feelings before your own. While this may make sense during an emergency, you must set aside some time to check in with yourself, too. 

According to Healthline, you can recognize the signs of burnout by paying attention to symptoms like: 

  • Exhaustion: Physical and emotional exhaustion can leave you feeling jaded and cause headaches, cramps, and changes to your appetite. 

  • Isolation: Folks who experience burnout are easily overwhelmed and may turn down opportunities to socialize with others. 

  • Escape Fantasies: Spending your days daydreaming about leaving is a sure sign you’re burned out. Some folks even turn to alcohol, drugs, or food to cope. 

  • Illnesses: Running at a maximum intensity can weaken your immune system and make you more prone to colds, flu, and viruses. You’re more likely to develop mental health conditions like depression and anxiety when burned out, too. 

You can’t afford to develop long-term burnout due to chronic stress and overworking. As a health professional, you are working with folks who are unwell all day and are exposed to viruses, colds, and common infectious illnesses. Being burned out puts your physical health at risk and increases your risk of taking sick days. 

Burnout also undermines your ability to care for others. Burnout causes behavioral changes and may lead to a sense of depersonalization. You may become withdrawn and could feel that you’re on the cusp of a mental collapse. This translates to poor patient care and may reduce your ability to empathize with the people you serve. 


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Restorative Power of Nature

Outdoor vacations can’t fix systematic issues like understaffing and poor management. However, taking a time-out in nature can significantly improve your mental health and well-being in the short term. This sentiment is echoed by the American Psychological Association (APA), which has identified the cognitive benefits of outdoor recreation which include: 

  • Improved memory

  • Increased mental flexibility, and attentional control

  • Stress reduction 

  • Enhanced performance when completing cognitive tasks

APA researchers also found that time in nature can restore your sense of happiness. Contact with nature is generally associated with improved subjective well-being, more positive social interactions, and decreases in mental distress. Spending time in nature also makes you more likely to cooperate with others which is key in the healthcare industry. 

A recent systematic review published in Environmental Research found that spending more time in nature can restore your physical health, too. Benefits include: 

  • Decreased blood pressure

  • Reduce the risk of diabetes

  • Lower cardiovascular mortality rates

  • Lower heart rate

Folks who spend more time in the great outdoors also self-report improved holistic health. This lends support to the idea that outdoor vacations can help you make key lifestyle changes that combat burnout and improve your overall well-being. 


Mindfulness Activities

The idea of spending time in nature appeals to most people. However, when you actually get out on the trail, you may find yourself worrying about what’s happening at work. This may minimize the positive impact of spending time outdoors and tempt you to cut your vacation short. 

Consider scheduling a few mindfulness activities to help you connect with nature and make the most of your time outdoors. These needn’t be lengthy meditation sessions with your eyes closed and legs crossed, either. Consider partaking in activities like: 

  • Bring some basic art supplies with you and draw or paint abstract versions of what you see, hear, and smell.

  • Explore natural textures with touch and write down your experiences.

  • Go forest bathing by finding a quiet spot in the woods and listening to nature. 

  • Balance rocks at the seaside using pebbles you find. Just be sure to disassemble your structure before you leave. 

  • Stay up for sunset or wake up at dawn to see sunrise. 

You can complete an impromptu mindfulness session while on nature walks, too. Simply focus your attention on a particular sound or sensation like your own footfall or the sound of singing birds. Try to extend your perception in all directions and focus on a new sound or sense. Stop walking and close your eyes if it helps or continue to walk at a pace while building up a sweat. 

Just make sure you complete outdoor mindfulness sessions far from roads or bike paths to ensure your safety and minimize distractions.


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Staying Safe Outdoors

Camping holidays and backpacking excursions can help you blow off some steam and return to work feeling recharged. However, vacationing in the great outdoors isn’t the same as booking a beachfront hotel. You need to take safety precautions if you want to make the most of your time away from work. 

You can protect your health in the great outdoors by working within your own abilities. Do not overestimate your expertise and be honest about your fitness level. Start with shorter trails while building up your fitness and turn around if you’ve bitten off more than you can chew. 

Before you leave, research your destination thoroughly and learn from guidebook resources and park websites. This will help you identify parking spots and find a campground with the facilities you need. Make sure you wear plenty of sun protection when outside and try to cover your skin as much as possible. This will protect you against ticks, mosquitos, and other insects. 

Let your family know where you’re going and consider traveling with a more experienced outdoors person. This gives you a chance to learn best practices while enjoying your time away from home. If you can’t find anyone to go with, consider signing up for an outdoor program designed to help beginners build their confidence and knowledge. 


Outdoor Retreats

Professionally organized retreats can be a godsend if you’re burned out but want to spend some time away in nature. Paying to join a retreat guarantees that you’ll have a good experience and lets someone else do the heavy lifting for once. Many retreats feature restful activities that are designed to help you unwind and see life from a fresh perspective. 

Speak to your employer about funding retreats if you think it would boost morale in your place of work. Some healthcare providers even team up with insurers who will pay for or subsidize wellness retreats. This is particularly popular in countries like Germany where people are legally entitled to clinics called “kurs”. 

When shopping for a retreat, look for a program that piques your interests and suits your needs. A wilderness break in the remote forest may be great fun if you have a passion for adventure, but it could be taxing if you’re unfamiliar with backpacking. Alternatively, you can look into retreats that will take you to remote destinations that still come with all the amenities and facilities you need to unwind. 


Take Mini Breaks

Sometimes you can’t afford to take a fortnight off work to relax and recover in the great outdoors. While a long vacation is likely the best way to hit the reset button, there’s nothing wrong with a mini-break over a long weekend or after a difficult shift. 

Planning is key to a successful mini-outdoor break. Pack ahead of time and fill your bag with seasonally appropriate clothes. Bringing insulated winter wear during early spring, late fall, or winter is key as you don’t want to spend your time off shivering due to wind chill. You can’t afford to return to your healthcare workplace with a cold, either. 

When on a mini-break, try to accept that things aren’t always going to go to plan. Instead, take things as they come and focus your thoughts on how you’d like to make positive changes to combat burnout. This may mean that you need to speak to leadership teams or reduce your workload when you return. 


Returning to Work

Burnout is a systemic issue in healthcare currently. That means that lifestyle changes and quick breaks should be treated as a short-term solution, rather than a long-term fix. Eventually, you and your employer will have to take steps to address burnout at your place of work

Use your time away on an outdoor vacation to trial programs that could help others. Facility-led practices like yoga and mindfulness already improve self-awareness and reduce stress. These practices can be supercharged if you can convince leadership to invest in outdoor vacations and retreats for staff. 

You don’t need to think about work while on an outdoor vacation, but the great outdoors may provide the perfect space to think. You’re not under pressure when walking through the woods and have plenty of time to brainstorm ideas when in the wilderness. This can help you rehearse a few positive, productive ways to raise issues at work. For example, if you notice that your employer regularly forgets employee appreciation, consider brainstorming ways to raise the issue in a non-combative way. 

When you do return to work, try to remember how rest and recovery made you feel. This can help you create a healthier work-life balance and set a work schedule that supports your long-term well-being. 

You should also keep up with the kinds of exercise that you enjoy when vacationing in the great outdoors. You don’t need to go on a vacation to enjoy hiking and outdoor yoga. Consider keeping a pair of trail shoes in your car or locker at work so you can get out into nature on lunch breaks and after your shift. Even a quick walk after work can give you a sense of control over your life and help you fight off burnout for longer. 



Outdoor vacations can help you recover from burnout and make positive changes in your life. Spending time outdoors reduces your stress, reduces your risk of illness, and improves your cardiovascular health, too. Just be sure to take care of your well-being while on the road and don’t be afraid to ask for help. You may even find that a guided retreat is just what you need to take a load off and unwind in the great outdoors.