This post originally appeared on Forbes
Last month, Hillary Clinton filmed a hilarious turn on the “Between Two Ferns” web series with Zach Galifinakis. She was on. She was witty. She was also suffering from pneumonia. Clinton taped the clip on the very same day that she was diagnosed. According to a Politico report, she showed absolutely no signs of feeling unwell and didn’t disclose her condition to the crew. Nobody knew how awful she really felt until she collapsed in public two days later.
Clinton’s stoic behavior hits home because it mirrors our own. Hillary, like so many high powered leaders, took it in stride and kept going. Just another day, in flow and on the job. Women who lead teams, women who have people depending on them, they just keep going. Despite perhaps knowing that they need to stop and replenish. Often we rely on unconscious beliefs called Iceberg Beliefs that drive us, such as “I must never give up” or “I should be able to do it all.”
And this doesn’t just apply to women or to leaders. As a nation, we wear our devotion to our jobs like a badge of honor. We’re afraid to take sick days—or to take time off in general. According to a recent survey from NSF International, at least 26% of American workers admit to going to work when sick, mainly because they’re afraid of missing deadlines (42%). We’re not taking vacations, either: According to a new report from Project Time Off, we wasted a record-setting 658 million vacation days in 2015, left by 55% of workers. Why? Sixty-seven percent of respondents reported hearing mixed or discouraging messages from their employers about taking time off, or heard nothing at all. We think carrying on is a sign of strength. And let’s face it, it rubs off on the people around us.
The Washington Post wrote a story about this troubling phenomenon and called it a “martyr complex.” It’s dangerous and warrants attention because all of us—from Hillary Clinton on down—deserve and require time to recharge. Stress is directly related to a host of health issues: Stressed people are 30% less likely to eat healthfully, 25% less likely to exercise, and they get half as much sleep as those who report low stress levels. Plus stress exacerbates heart disease and mental health issues.
It’s essential to embrace a culture of self-care. Here’s how.
Give yourself a reality check. Do this by confronting your Iceberg Beliefs around achievement and work. Many of us have maintained beliefs ingrained since childhood. These are usually “should” statements we tell ourselves that aren’t necessarily true. We think that the world won’t go on without us, that only weak people take time off, or that we’ll lose standing or respect if we actually dare to clock out. These beliefs are driven by our insecurities and have little to do with reality. Think about those internal “should” statements you have about work and achievement and confront them: “I should always be accessible”—and ask yourself if they’re reasonable. Chances are, they’re not. This exercise helps us gain perspective and creates space for self-care.
Learn how to delegate. Once you’ve given yourself permission to take time out, offer yourself peace of mind by learning how to delegate while you’re well. I know, I know. Delegating is difficult. I’ve run several companies. I understand the pull to be in control and the drive to do everything yourself. What if something goes wrong? But we’re setting ourselves up for disaster by shouldering the burden alone. Be patient, and give your team time and space to learn. Trust your team, and assume the best will happen (until it doesn’t). And redirect with gentle suggestions if something doesn’t go your way, instead of jumping in. If you get used to delegating, you’ll feel more comfortable taking time away when necessary, because you’ll have a team of pinch-hitters teed up in your absence.
Set clear boundaries. Instead of walking that fine line between accessibility and time off, be explicitly clear about your availability. Don’t try to check email from bed or run a conference call from your doctor’s office. Be transparent about your plans: Tell your colleagues when you’ll be unavailable and why, and honor that plan. By adopting a proactive, open approach—and by creating a culture of delegating ahead of time—you’ll feel less guilty when you actually need to take time out.
Keep your eyes on the prize. Still feeling guilty? Understand that by taking time off when you truly need it, you’re actually making yourself more productive, useful, and in control. You’re improving your health and decreasing your stress levels, which not only make you more motivated—it might even improve your long-term health, according to the American Psychological Association.
Bottom line? We just can’t afford to make ourselves sick over the very idea of sick days. Taking action now will keep us feeling better later. That’s good news for our workplaces, for our own physical health, and for our peace of mind.