5 Expert-Approved Tips So You Can Actually Relax On Vacation
Imagine this: Putting on the out-of-office email and putting your phone away, save for making the occasional dinner reservation. Waking up fully rested and with the sun, not because you have to make a meeting but because you want to fit in morning yoga. Looking in the mirror to see that those dark circles have faded and previously drained skin just looks refreshed and golden. Doesn't that just sound like a dream vacation?
Unfortunately, often despite our best efforts, the opposite outcome can be true: Have you ever come back from a vacation feeling more exhausted and stressed than when you left? Or do you feel the stressors of "real life" pop up, even if you're miles away?
"In a world where technology has created expectations of 'instant response time' and '24/7 availability,' the concept of downtime has taken on negative connotations for too many people today," says Suzanne Degges-White, Ph.D., LPC-NC. "But our bodies don't keep up with this oddly misaligned perspective—our bodies totally need some time off, or else the health and mental repercussions can be detrimental to our ability to manage any of our various roles successfully."
Well, there are ways to maximize recovery—mind and body—so you come back feeling more fulfilled and ready to go. Just consider these to be general guidelines rather than a planning guide: "Remember, everyone's idea of the ideal vacation may vary, and that's great! For some, the best kind of vacation is one in which getting out of bed is the most strenuous thing they'll do each day. Others seek activities to challenge their physical stamina. The most important thing to remember is that even a less than ideal vacation will still give you stories to recount on your return—don't stress about the 'perfect vacation'; just make sure you take one," says Degges-White.
Maybe you're a type-A person while home—always volunteering more at work, shuffling the kids around on a tight schedule, and fitting in hour-plus workouts. Resist the urge to do this while on vacation—it's just an added element of stress, and you might miss out on the joy of spontaneity. "Don’t schedule each day so tightly that you miss out on unexpected or unplanned opportunities," says Degges-White. "Even if you're the type of person who has to know when and where you're supposed to be at any given time and how you're going to get there, take a breath and let things happen without trying to control."
Another reason to avoid overplanning? Things go wrong, and you need to adjust along the way. "When this happens, don't let your reaction and response make things even worse," she says. "Just remind yourself that sometimes "life happens" and the beaten path doesn't always lead to the destination that is best for you and your family, even if you organized the tour a year ahead of time!" You're not in your normal habitat where you likely have a better idea of how things run and how to fix them. You're in a new environment: This means you likely don't have as much control, and that's OK.
Give your body a break, too.
Some people may use vacation as a time to avoid working out—there are plenty of reasons you might not be able to get in a session—but given you're a reader here, you likely make it a priority. And while it's good for you to work your body on vacation, make sure you are giving your body recovery time. This is especially true if your vacation looks like the type that involves physical challenges like climbing, intense hikes, cycling, surfing, or skiing.
"When we ask our body to work for us through exercise or any other physical activity, we are challenging and exhausting our muscles. The only way they can perform again is if they get time to recover. Think of it like your brain and sleep. If you pull an all-nighter and never rest, your brain won't function the way it would if you slept eight hours the night before. Our muscles and CNS need time to recover and rebuild," says trainer Alex Silver-Fagan.
Eating right can help.
In my opinion, trying new foods and indulging is one of the most important parts of vacation (I'm always going to order the pasta and Aperol Spritz! I just am!). But toward the end of a trip, this can leave me feeling sluggish, bloated, and desperately craving vegetables. So, I've come to some sort of compromise with myself: Indulge, but acknowledge a few plant-based or plant-heavy meals here and there will help me in the long run. "Recovery, as a whole, is neglected even in the wellness space," says international chef Dan Churchill. "Food is an integral part of recovery. When you talk about recovery foods, we tend to talk about macronutrients: carbs, protein, fat. But what I always tell people is just to stick to some habit so you're not throwing your body off too much."
The good news, too, is it's easier and easier to find healthy food options. Your best bet, says Churchill? Finding restaurants that specialize in farm-to-table or local sourcing. This is not only more sustainable and better for you, but you'll get to explore your location through food.
You *actually* need to detach from work.
I am not going to be the first or last person to tell you this: You need to leave work and technology be. It is the only way you are going to declutter your head and recover while on vacation. And, yet, I know how challenging it can be to actually do this. In normal day-to-day life, I often complain about the creeping ping of texts, emails, and social media notifications. But then when I actually take time off, I never let myself ignore them. So I empathize and acknowledge I'm not perfect. Given this, here's what I will say: You know your job better than I, so if you truly cannot not check email, that's your call and not for me to judge. But if you can, you should: The benefits far outweigh any perceived faults.
"If you really want a vacation, you're going to have to force yourself to leave behind (literally is best; metaphorically, if that's all you can manage) any technology that ties you to your professional roles. It can take a lot of discipline to step back and let go of the cellphone or laptop. However much effort it takes you to resist the urge—or addictive craving—to pick up your device and start scrolling through emails or the news is going to be well worth it! Your brain totally deserves the opportunity to reroute itself, and we all know from current research that "switching things up" and reprogramming yourself out of ruts is one of the protective behaviors that helps fight against cognitive decline as we age," says Degges-White.
Use the teachings of mindfulness and meditation.
"Remind yourself that you are deserving of the time away from your job or your routine. Some people feel guilty if they take time for their own pleasure—but the world isn't meant to be constantly pressing down on the joys of leisure time," she says. Translation: Live in the moment. "When thoughts about what you've left undone or what you'll face when you return come up, just let them roll through your mind, like clouds in the sky, and let them go," says Degges-White.
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