I probably don’t need to tell you that taking a vacation can do wonders for your mental health. There is nothing like taking a break from your regular routine and responsibilities to help restore, rejuvenate and offer perspective.
I probably also don’t need to tell you that the planning, preparation and transition-back-to-”real life”- parts of vacation can be stressful. Particularly for folks who struggle with anxiety, the break from routine can feel like a loss of control and it can be hard to stay fully present while on vacation when the mind keeps jumping ahead to all of the catch-up work you’ll have to do when you get home.
All of this can be enough to put off taking a vacation, which many folks do, particularly in our workaholic culture. It might seem like more trouble than it’s worth.
I’m here to tell you that it is always worth it to take time off (as someone who has always maximized vacation time and encourages my clients to do the same, I admit I am biased). When we break from our “every-day,” we expand our horizons, make new and unexpected connections, and give our minds and bodies the break they need to re-energize and bring renewed creativity back to our lives and our work.
Here are some tips for making your next vacation really feel like the time off you deserve:
In thinking about what you want to do, where you want to go and who you want to go with, try asking yourself: “what do I most need right now?” Is it rest? Time to decompress and power down? Perhaps you are feeling stuck or stagnant, and want some adventure. Maybe you are looking for time to really connect with your partner, family or friends.
Getting intentional about the “why” of taking the vacation helps connect us with what we value, whether that’s time to connect inward, with others, or to open our minds to something new. When we stay connected to our values, it’s easier to tolerate the inevitable bumps in the road and when things don’t go as planned.
Give yourself buffer time
If possible, give yourself at least a day of buffer time on each end of your trip to ease the transition. When we go right from busy work mode to travel mode, we may bring more tension and stress into the start of our vacation than we’d like. Alternately, not giving ourselves a buffer day to re-adjust to being back home before going back to work can set us up for more stress.
It may not always be possible to give yourself a full day or two on each end (although that is ideal, and especially recommended for travel that involves significant time changes), but try to give yourself at least some space so you don’t feel rushed packing and getting your home in order.
Set and forget your out of office notifications
Use technology to your advantage! Set “away” notifications on your emails, phone, and other lines of communication. Ask a trusted colleague to cover for you in case of emergency (and offer to return the favor in the future!).
Once you set those notifications and have your coverage for any emergencies, don’t keep checking in! I know this can sometimes cause more anxiety for some folks when they think about the “catch up” they’ll have to do when home (again, why those buffer days are so important!), so if you really don’t think you can go the whole time without checking, then get intentional and schedule in a time that you’ll check while away and stick to it – no regular peeking!
Getting away and experiencing new scenery and experiences can actually make it easier than usual to practice mindfulness. When we’re outside of our routine or perhaps comfort zone, we’re much more likely to be in the present moment, noticing and taking in all of the sensory information about what’s right in front of us.
Try to really lean into the opportunity to practice mindfulness while you’re on vacation. Pay attention to all of your senses – sights, smells, tastes, sounds, what you can reach out and touch. This is a great time to really notice what it’s like to be totally in the moment, which is a great souvenir to bring home with you.
Find the right balance between planning and spontaneity
Worriers and anxious folks tend to want to feel as in control as possible, but as we know, there’s a lot in life we can’t control and when we try to micromanage our own lives, it can get exhausting and prevent us from enjoying the present moment.
Taking a vacation and traveling is a great opportunity to practice letting go of some control, even if just a little bit. Make a plan but be open to shifting things around and allowing opportunities to present themselves in unexpected ways.
So what are you waiting for? Start dreaming of your next vacation today and remember it may be one of the best things you can do for your mental health.