Client-centered Therapy How to Psychology

How To Get The Most Of Your Vacation

How To Get the Most Of Your Vacation

Vacation | Relaxation | Rejuvination | Goals

In order to have this moment (putting your feet up at the beach), take a moment before that vacation to consider how to make the best of your vacation time.

With late August being a traditional time for families to take vacation before the kids go back to school, and with Labor Day weekend right on its heels, many people are preparing for a vacation from work and the normal hustle and bustle of everyday life at home and work.

The reality of that preparation to leave town includes a dozen or more details: flights and driving routes, pet sitters, projects to finish or temporarily hand off at work, meetings to attend to make sure the details don’t get dropped, school supplies purchased then prepped for the first day of school, and packing lists for all the things needed for that one week or more of time off.

It’s enough to make it feel like vacation could not come sooner. But if it did, would you be too exhausted to enjoy it?

Let’s take a moment to think about how to get the most out of your vacation. And the answers you come up with — what? You think I know what only YOU know  you need??? — will probably surprise you.

What’s the Purpose of Vacation?

Does vacation need a purpose? You bet it does. Many of us do not know how to relax or be about “the art of doing nothing.” Something as unproductive as lounging in a hammock by a beach may be relaxing for a few hours, but some of us become restless and work to undermine the purpose of taking a vacation.

Apparently, there is some science behind the need for vacation. Our brains process blue spaces — spaces that are wide open — as a better and less stressful backdrop than filled in space, such as our urban settings.

Besides parking yourself by a beach, here are a few thoughts about taking an intentional vacation and getting the most from it.

1.  Take a break from routine. You need to have a substantial amount of time (traditionally a week to ten days) where you are not responsible to take care of much more than your own physical, emotional, and mental care.

If that can’t be done during a stay cation (a vacation from work but you stay at home) because too many people and responsibilities know where you live, then I recommend you go far enough away from home to be out of reach or outside the normal convenience it takes to reach you.  That might be 90 minutes out of town on a camping trip in the woods, with your cell phones off and your other digital devices rendered useless because there is no WiFi or Hotspot.

A break from routine can include waking up at a later hour because you are normally an early riser, or waking up an hour or two earlier because you want to try a meditation, yoga, or exercise workout you haven’t been able to engage in your day-to-day regimen. Relationally, it could look like reading aloud to your loved one (yes, adults used to read to each other for entertainment), sharing a relaxing bath or shower (hey, saves water!), or cuddling in a tent under the stars.

If your vacation involves traveling and staying in hotels, I recommend trying to get a hotel that has a kitchen suite, and challenging yourself to introduce a healthy habit in a non-stressful, pleasant environment. Take a break from any junk food habits, like gobbling processed food at your desk, and create a healthier snack while paying attention to how you feel, such as improved energy, ease of digestion, and not needing that extra cup of coffee.

2. Stimulate creativity.  When the body and mind are more relaxed, it’s the perfect time to allow vacation mode to stimulate a creative and active mind. The mind is no longer “life guarding” projects and handling crises at work and home; it is free to roam and to see things from different angles. 

Taking a dance or movement class, watching the sun rise or set, observing the colors in a nature scene, or learning a new skill during a vacation activity adventure (i.e. hiking, climbing, cooking, crafts, walking through unfamiliar towns) can stimulate the mind and bring a freshness of attitude and insight.

If you need something a little more zen, a slow walk along the beach, a light yoga routine in the cool of the day by a pretty scene outside, or handwriting in a journal can also stimulate creativity in a non-stressful way.

3. Refrain from work.  While on vacation, your purpose is to be present with yourself, your partner/spouse, children, and/or traveling companion. If you take work with you, you will find a way to work while on vacation. 

While I understand that you may be in a field of work that does not receive a true vacation, you must weigh your choice to be at work remotely with the purpose of taking a vacation. Vacation is a time of rest, rejuvenation, and relaxation. Working prevents much of that from happening. If it cannot be avoided, do your best to corral any work you must do into concentrated times in the least important time of the day.

4. Practice radical self-care.  If self-care is one of those areas you struggle with, try practicing radical self care for the entire vacation cycle. From start to finish, wear comfortable clothing that allows you to breath, bend, and rest. Get eight hours of sleep, and if you can’t sleep eight hours, at least spend the remaining time resting, feet up, and your face not looking at a screen. Eat three meals and a couple of snacks per day. Move your body around for a minimum of one hour of your waking hours, preferably outside in fresh air. 

Self-care includes monitoring how your talk about and to yourself. If you notice negative commentary in your speech and thoughts about yourself, try reframing those thoughts into something you can manage. For example, if you are feeling stressed out about work, you can reframed that feeling on vacation with,  “While I’m not as stress free as I’d like to be today, each day I can do something for myself to feel a little less stressed.”

Have you avoided an ache, pain, or minor medical problem that you could take care of during vacation? If possible, practice radical self-care on it. For example, upper back pain from hunching at a desk and typing on a computer could be met by bringing some awareness to your posture while you are on vacation. Make a fun game out of catching yourself or your loved if slouching. Whoever slouches the most promises to give a little hand massage to the other.  Go find an affordable massage and book it.

If you end up liking the things you did for yourself during vacation, you could make a note of it to try bringing them back with you when the vacation is over.

5. Give yourself permission to disengage in order to reengageOne of the challenges of going on vacation with family is being in tight quarters, or being with each other for extended blocks of time with no breaks. For some family members, this is what they have been waiting for; for others who are more introverted or receive energy from spending time in isolation, this can be unnerving and stressful

Vacations can be broken up into pockets of time where you can be together, and other pockets of time where you can explore, reflect, or rest apart. A successful vacation does not mean you have to be in each other’s business every moment!  Instead, monitor your own needs and those traveling with you, and suggest times where you can share thoughts and feelings. Plan in natural blocks of free time, and don’t insist that everyone be “entertained” every moment.

I don’t recommend using vacation to instigate radical change. Over the years, clients have told me how they regretted trying to host a serious overhaul on a troubling aspect of their relationship in the middle of a pleasant holiday. Instead, think of the vacation time as a time to affirm and support the best in your partner or spouse, and to minimize and restrict arguments and criticisms as much as possible.

You can actively disengage from negative conversations by stating that you do not wish to continue it at this time, and suggest a time after the vacation is over to get into the deeper details. Put it on the electronic calendar to show that you are serious about returning to the subject, just at a better time for the both of you.

My Turn

The end of August is one of the times of the year I go on vacation with my husband. The weeks leading up to vacation are a flurry of work for both of us, and for me, there is also my fitness training schedule, races before vacation, and races after vacation. Additionally, our vacation this year necessitates some extra packing time to bring my own dehydrated foods for approximately 12-15 meals because of my food allergies and Celiac Disease. Just the thought of meal prepping for what looks like remote camping instead of international travel can cause my mind to feel a bit overwhelmed.

The key to a great vacation is solid preparation. I took a weekend to camp under the stars and carry everything I needed on my back on a remote trail. By doing so, I tested my stamina as well as my preparations. The trip gave me a chance to preview my options well in advance of my vacation, and this increased my confidence that at least on the physical side of things, I could take care of myself so that my spouse can rest easy.

Fortunately for me, my husband is a whiz at trip planning. Once we figured out when we wanted to leave, what we wanted to see and experience, and when we wanted to return, he talked to the travel organizer and set our plans in motion. All I have to do is be organized, pack well, and be rested before we take off.

I made sure we have time to do some self-care activities, such as time at a natural hot spring, and maybe a massage at one of the stops on our self-guided tour. We picked options with manageable driving time in the car that wouldn’t make us feel pressured. We manage our expectations too. When he’s driving, he doesn’t want to talk much; when I’m driving, I would love for him to do more of the talking, but he can’t have his eyes in a book. I’m leaving the computer at home so I can’t be on it during spare time; we’re both bringing books for our individual down time to relax and unwind.

SDC’s virtual office will be closed August 20 – 29, open August 30 and 31 for all clients doing “checking in” sessions, and then it will be closed Sept 1 – 4 to observe the long Labor Day weekend. Traditionally, no one has ever wanted my office hours during that weekend, so this year’s vacation time spans two weeks.

In the meantime, I hope you will consider setting up your sessions before August 20, as there is still time to get into your challenges and issues and help create some homework to dig into before September. It’s a great way to know what you’ll be working on after you get back from your vacation.

By Imei Hsu

Imei Hsu is a mental health counselor, active retired RN, AIP Coach and PN1-NC, writer, triathlete and arts promoter in the Seattle area and through online services. With 30+ years in healthcare (22+ years in mental health), Imei has a commitment to helping people discover insight into their health, relationships, and connecting. She is the owner of Seattle Direct Counseling and the blog, a presenter and speaker on a variety of psychological topics, and a positive force on the Internet. She launched her personal project, My Allergy Advocate, in 2018. Imei is a two-time Ironman Finisher (Mont-Tremblant 2016, Ironman Canada 2018); she also finished her first ultramarathon in 2017 and has gone on to race the 100K distance while preparing for 100 Mile trail races and a backyard ultra. You can find her running everywhere and eating all the thingz, watching movies, camping under the stars, and cooking real food.

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