You wake up and plug in.

You scroll through your phone — the news, social media, maybe listen to a podcast.

You switch gears and head to work, dig into strategy, collaborate with your team, get things done.

You switch gears again and run errands, make dinner, connect with family or friends.

There is so much switching. So much to do, to listen to, to discuss.

How do you create balance? How do you stay present in all facets of your life and do it well?!

I can only speak for me. But personally, I think hitting the refresh button is completely necessary to stay productive in life. I know what you’re thinking, “another person telling me the importance of taking a vacation and disconnecting from work (insert eye roll),” and yes, that’s what I’m saying, you’re not wrong. But hear me out…

My role at the Foundation is admittedly my first job out of college. In the beginning (I’m now here almost two years), I was still really learning how to work in an office setting, along with learning more about the ins and the outs of what the Foundation does for our community. When you’re in school, you get longer seasonal breaks that are decided for you, and it’s an adjustment I think many young professionals aren’t prepared for. Because now it was up to me to decide when I needed (mentally) to take a break and then compare that with, as a newer employee, how many PTO days I had available. This was new territory for me, because I figured I would just know when I needed a break, but the secret here is — I had no clue.

And because of that, I got stuck in this daily routine and kept putting off a real break, because I didn’t think that I needed it yet. I kept thinking that summer is when you’re supposed to take a break, because that’s what we are conditioned to our entire lives, but I actually despise summer and the heat, and so taking time off in the summer doesn’t work for me. I worked through it instead, and didn’t take any time off my first year here. A year went by, and this pattern of not taking time off led to me becoming more irritable and uninspired — at the office and in my life. I was feeling apathetic and wasn’t in a good mental space.

This past January I finally realized that this wasn’t a healthy way to live, that I wasn’t helping anyone the best I could if I was feeling this way. And because I have the privilege to work somewhere that values their employees (and I’ll check my privilege here in general too — I’m aware that this is not something everyone can do for so many reasons) I was able to take time to travel and explore the Fire and Ice nation of Iceland. In January. Was it freezing? Absolutely, but it was so gorgeous and surreal that I was able to forget about everything going on at home. And you know what? I think we all need that sometimes. It’s good to be plugged in and know what’s going on at work, in our families, with our friends, in the world, etc., but we can’t bring our best to any of it if we’re too tired/burnt out/frustrated to try. We need that disconnection from everyone, and it doesn’t make you a bad person.

We can’t help anyone until we help ourselves, right?

This past June, I had the ability to leave the country once again, and I went for a week to Vienna. I really think that travel challenges you in the best way. There were times I didn’t have access to Internet. There were times I got frustrated because it was hard to figure out the best route to get from point A to point B in a foreign country. But through the difficulties, there were amazing bright spots. I found a local pizzeria with a sweet couple who convinced me it wasn’t too hot to sit outside, and I should take the leftovers back to my room. I found a bar where my friend and I became regulars after two days, and the bartender knew what we wanted to order. I got to see a teacher taking her students on the metro on a field trip. These little things are mundane, but what I realized in these moments was that it is all about connection — an invisible link between all of us.

We’re all working and struggling. Yes, there are significant differences in what this means, even within our own country, but everyone is doing this in their own reality. We often forget the world is much bigger than the bubble we live in. And it’s good/important/necessary to leave your bubble (whatever it looks like to you) once in a while.

The moral of my story is simply this — We need to find time to hit stop and refresh. We need to take action and give our best to work, important and necessary causes, and relationships, but it can only happen when we give our brain time to breathe and find inspiration, sometimes in the most outlandish ways. This can also mean to encourage those around us to take breaks too. I’m lucky to be in a place that encourages taking a break (if I listen). So whether you decide to go to the beach or to Thailand — make the choice to disconnect, soak in the moments around you, and then bring back that beautiful connection to humanity home, and do something with it.

Contributing staff writer is Hiral Patel, Marketing & Communications Associate at Triangle Community Foundation.