About three-quarters of Americans have vacation time, but a shocking number don't use all of it (or even any of it). More than half of U.S. workers forfeit some vacation days each year, according to a 2016 Bankrate study, and a 2014 survey showed that 42% of Americans claimed they don't take vacation time at all.

You might call that simply having a good work ethic, but it's actually bad for the employer and the employee. People need time to relax, recharge, and refocus. Going without vacations leads to burnout.

For many workers, the very thought of being out of the office causes anxiety. However, with a little planning, you can quell those fears and leave the office behind for a while.

A cup of coffee with a plane drawn in milk foam sits on a mat.

Taking time off can make you a better worker when you return. Image source: Getty Images.

1. Clear the dates early

One way to relieve anxiety is to plan far ahead. Pick your vacation dates early and make sure everyone else knows what they are. Don't go overboard with the details (as you're likely more nervous about taking time off than your colleagues are about not having you in the office), but do make sure there are no conflicts.

If you want to feel even better, pick a week that's traditionally slow. Again, that's probably not necessary, but it can lessen stress.

2. Work ahead

Before I went away for a week in January, I prepared some work ahead of time that needed to be done that week. It consisted mostly of small tasks that would not have been worth teaching someone else to do in my absence.

In the weeks leading up to my trip, I made sure to do a little bit of extra work each day for my off period. It wasn't much hassle, and it made me feel like I was setting myself and my coworkers up for success.

3. Ask for help

Before my trip, one of my coworkers questioned my plan to do some work while traveling. It seemed prudent to me, because for a contractor/freelancer, it's a way to make a little money while on vacation. My coworker acknowledged my point but also suggested that I would probably be happier if I handed the work off.

She was right. That coworker and another handled some work I do every day that I had intended to do on my trip. That turned out to be a very big deal, because I had gone on a cruise where the Wi-Fi proved to be terrible. A task that takes me perhaps an hour may not have been doable at all.

Ask for help. Your coworkers can, and will, cover for you.

4. Get over yourself

I'm sure you're great at your job, but I doubt that the building will collapse, or that the company will go under, just because you take off for a few days. Letting go is not always easy (it certainly wasn't for me), but remember that brain surgeons, nuclear physicists, and even world leaders take time off.

You can go away, and everything will still be there when you come back.

Actually go away

Whether you take a trip or sit at home catching up movies and rest, make sure you take a real break. If ignoring your work email stresses you out, then take a look now and then, but place limits on how often you check it and respond to messages.

Vacations are about disconnecting. Take the time to recharge so you can come back to work ready for the challenges that were there when you left -- and will almost certainly be waiting for you when you get back.

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