Checking email on the subway, answering phone calls in the evening, staying up until ghastly hours swimming through seas of paperwork.

If you can relate to any of the above, then you're probably trapped on the hamster wheel of productivity. Being productive is fine, but when you can't get off, that's where the problems ensue.

Smartphones have effectively killed off boredom, ushering in a new era of ubiquitous opportunities for self-distraction.

If you're always either working or being fed a relentless stream of entertainment, how is it possible to get in touch with your own inner thoughts and feelings? The cyber age has turned us into input-output machines, and experts mince no words when it comes to the deleterious effects of technology.

To top it all off, a recent Glassdoor survey bears the grim tale that 54 percent of Americans let their vacation days go by unused.

But why are we so busy all the time? Why do we leave no room for respite? Why would over half of American employees squander perfectly good vacation days?

What Terrifies Us.

Fear is a very powerful and dominant force in our lives. People will do anything to avoid the potential disastrous catastrophes that a fear dictates. So when it comes to the career force, which can be intensely competitive nowadays, it's only natural that fear should enter the picture.

But what is the main reason for these unused vacation days? According to Scott Dobroski, career trends analyst at Glassdoor, it's simple:

"Fear," Dobroski answered in this Market Watch report. "That's the underscoring theme."  

People fear getting behind on their work (34%), believe no one else at their company can do the work while they're out (30%), they are completely dedicated to their company (22%), and they feel they can never be disconnected (21%).

The Remedy to Fear.

Fear generally capitalizes on doubt. What if you don't make the next deadline? What if people call you unreliable? What if an emergency happens while you're offline and unreachable?

All the aforementioned worries are merely assumptions, but if you'd like to kick that fear in the butt then you've got to take away the grounds for the doubts. So here's a tip: plan ahead.

Are you going on a vacation next week? Make it your duty to plan for and preempt any possible situation that might need your attention. Let all your colleagues know your schedule. Set aside a specific time of day that you will be available to answer phone calls. Set up your email auto-responder. Write up a list of instructions you can leave by the secretary so that if anything unexpected comes up, there is no confusion.

Now, Time to Relax.

Mindfulness expert Dana Zelicha and CEO of Organizational Well Being Agency recommends to take a moment to reflect on how you woke up this morning. Were you excited to start your day, or did you feel overwhelmed, anxious, or even physically ill by the amount of tasks that awaited you?

If this scenario sounds familiar, you are not alone. What you are experiencing is stress, and this rote routine has become a common side-effect for many employees as the result of the US's growing workplace stress epidemic. 

Zelicha says that the good news is that meditation can be effective in just a few short minutes when you find a spare moment or in between tasks. Think about all the times you idly scroll through your Facebook newsfeed or browse the internet for the same (if not more) amount of time. Using those pockets of downtime for meditation could be just what the doctor ordered to get you refocused and back on track.

Instant Downtime.

Here are some ideas for you to incorporate instant mindfulness into your life.  Create an island in time by setting an alarm for as little as one minute, and doing one of the following:

  • Focus on your breathing. Inhale, exhale. Go slow. Close your eyes.

  • Spend a few minutes listening to music to lower your heart rate.

  • Sketch on a napkin. Draw whatever's on your mind.

  • Keep a gratitude journal -- every day, write down three things you are grateful for.

  • Pay attention to the sounds around you.

  • Allow yourself to just be. Do nothing. Give yourself a mental reset time to empty your brain of all thoughts and worries.

Drop the excuses; step away from the computer and recharge your life. You've only got a limited amount of time on this planet. Make it count.

**Liba Rimler contributed to this article.

Published on: Feb 4, 2018