Do you come back feeling more refreshed and energized after taking time off, whether it’s a weekend or an extended vacation? Do you spend time away from work or other day-to-day roles you fill (caregiver, parent) focusing on taking care of you?
Survey data collected since the start of the pandemic suggests people increasingly report they want their time off to be restorative and spent in ways that promote well-being.
A 2021 trend report from American Express found that more than two-thirds of people surveyed said their mental health has been impacted by the pandemic. That has inspired 66 percent of them to spend more money on items or experiences that help with overall mental wellness, including travel; and 76 percent of those surveyed agree they want to spend more on travel that improves their well-being.
So long then, maybe, to the days when people bragged about an overbooked datebook; this trend gives a whole new meaning to the concept of a “low-key weekend.”
For a lot of people, our work and nonwork routines shifted dramatically during the pandemic. And for many, being less busy led them to question the value of “hustle culture,” says Leela Magavi, MD, a psychiatrist and the regional medical director of Community Psychiatry in Newport Beach, California.
So, it’s not surprising if, after the past two years we’ve had, people want their time off to be more restorative and about nourishing themselves, she says.
If you have the time and means to book a fancy wellness trip or spa day (and that’s something that would help you reconnect with yourself and feel refreshed), go for it. If not, you can definitely still find the same zen at home by shifting your mindset somewhat and making a few tweaks to your time-off routine. Here’s what Dr. Magavi and other experts suggest to keep your time off truly restorative.
1. Plan to Not Let Work (or Other Disruptions) Butt In
Have you ever been in that situation where you can’t enjoy time off because you’re too stressed about what’s happening back at work or at home (if you’re away)?
Avoid this time-off stress by planning ahead, says Gregory Scott Brown, MD, a Houston-based psychiatrist and the author of The Self-Healing Mind: An Essential Five-Step Practice for Overcoming Anxiety and Depression and Revitalizing Your Life.
Alert colleagues before you’ll be away, so they can get in touch ahead of time if they expect to need anything from you during that time. Do it a few days ahead of when you’ll actually be out so that you don’t get slammed with a bunch of questions right when you’re trying to power down and start your time off. Answer lingering personal emails and pay the bills ahead of time, too, so you don’t find yourself having to deal with those things when you’re in “away” mode.
And schedule in some extra time just before you’re away to deal with anything that comes up last minute and tie up loose ends, Dr. Brown says. Maybe that’s touching base with a coworker, or making a to-do list of things you’ll take care of when you’re back.
2. Keep (at Least Part of) Your Time Off Errand- and Chore-Free
Especially if you tend to keep a mountainous to-do list, a day off from work might be a tempting time for catching up on other chores, like doing the laundry, grocery shopping, or catching up on email.
And while yes, at some point you’re going to have to spend some of your nonworking waking hours doing the laundry and filing your taxes, focusing all your free time on chores and being productive can put you right back in work mode. That’s because you’re still focusing on work-type attributes like productivity and output, says Brown. Also, we sometimes have the tendency to check out emotionally when we do chores. You may go into let’s-just-get-through-this mode until the task is done rather than really enjoying yourself. Time off is a time to be truly present with yourself.
3. Make Plans to Do Exactly What You Want to Do
You don’t need to map out every minute of your time off, but think ahead about how you’ll spend your time so you can make the most of it, says Hannah Paull, PsyD, a therapist at Berman Psychotherapy in Atlanta. “Be very intentional and engage with the day.”
Decide what things you enjoy and want to fit in during your time off, and then plan when you’ll do them, Dr. Paull says.
Or don’t make a plan. Instead, try setting aside part of your time off to just do exactly what you want to do when that time comes; maybe it’s going for a walk, curling up on the couch with a book, or making yourself a gourmet breakfast.
4. Listen to Your Body
Whether your body needs a break from an intense exercise regimen, or it needs more movement after a lot of sedentary time, or it’s feeling beat up after chasing young kids around the house and running errands, your time off is a great time to listen to those needs. After all, feeling good physically is kind of fundamental to health and well-being, right?
Don’t discount the effect that taking care of your body’s physical needs (be it a restorative yoga class, a long walk, or an intense HIIT workout) can have on mood, adds Brown.
Plenty of research says our bodies were meant to move — and that physical activity leads to a lot of benefits to health and well-being. Evidence shows that changes in the brain during exercise are linked to improved memory, learning ability, cognitive function, and mood, according to a review published in 2018 in the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience.
5. Make Time for Activities You Know Bring You Joy
Think about activities, pastimes, or hobbies you’ve enjoyed in the past and do them. Paull says leaning on something you already know you love doing can be like a shortcut to a good time — you know how it’s going to make you feel. Make time for playing a game you love, gardening, or strolling through a museum. Or turn back to childhood pleasures like reading comic books, riding your bike around the neighborhood, coloring, or doing other arts and crafts projects.
“Think about what already makes you feel energized,” Paull says. “Most likely, there’s something that fires you up and you may have forgotten it.” There’s joy in that rediscovery, too, she says.
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