Here are 8 tips to help you make the most of your time off.
As long-anticipated vacation days grow closer, we may excitedly anticipate crystal-blue water, strolling through quaint European towns and memories made with family and friends. When the break arrives, those days can look a little different. We may spend slightly too much time checking in with work on our devices, become irritated with friends and family members joining us on vacation or fail to be truly mindful in the fun and leisure vacation time presents. In this 24/7 society, it can be difficult to completely relax and disconnect. But we must remember that time off—quality time off—is important for our health and well-being.
“Dedicated time off provides the opportunity for our bodies and minds to get the rest and reprieve they need,” says Carla Manly, PhD, psychologist, and author of Joy From Fear. These much-needed breaks help stave off emotional exhaustion that results from overburdened schedules.
So, it’s important not only to make the most of vacation days, but also to be grateful for them. Here’s how:
Look on the bright side of time away. “You can boost appreciation for time off by reorienting your thinking to look at the positives,” says Stuart Lustig, PhD, board-certified psychiatrist and National Medical Executive for Behavioral Health at Cigna. After all, time off can mean travel to a new place, uninterrupted time with friends and family or quiet time alone. “However you choose to spend it, time off represents balance in your life, which is something to be thankful for,” he says.
Do some front-end prep. In the days and weeks leading up to your time off, line your ducks in a row, put coworkers in place as backup, create an automatic email reply that tells senders when you will return and get back to them and do whatever else you can ahead of time to set up a clean break while you’re away. “By preparing for time off, you can fully let go and focus on the moment rather than what you might be missing while you are gone,” Manly says.
Take a holiday for your health: “The body and mind are connected, so taking time away from work to recharge benefits both your physical and emotional health,” Lustig says. There’s science to back this up. In the Framingham Heart Study, researchers followed more than 12,000 men at risk for heart disease over nine years. They found that the more often men vacationed, the longer they lived. The same study found that women who vacationed the least were eight times as likely to suffer a heart attack as women who took two or more vacations a year. To boost the health benefits even higher, open your mind and include healthful practices in your time off—bike or hike through a new town, take a yoga class or try paddle boarding at the beach or lake.
Practice mindfulness. “When we bring mindfulness to our experience, gratitude often arises naturally,” says Nicole Renee Matthews, director of Yoga at Newport Academy. If you’re walking on the beach, notice the breeze on your face and the beauty of the sunset. As you eat a meal on vacation, notice the scenery around you and appreciate the taste of every bite.
Wake up thankful. “Start each morning of your vacation with a moment of gratitude for the time off,” Manly says. Let yourself wake up naturally, without an alarm clock. Then focus on your goals for the day, even if they are as simple as to soak up sun by the sea. “This conscious clarity helps the psyche appreciate and absorb the relaxed or playful essence of the day’s plans,” she says.
Reflect on each day. As you wind down from a day off, sit down in the evening and journal about a few of the day’s best moments. “By focusing on the positive, you can actually rewire your brain to become more optimistic and grateful,” Matthews says.
Do something for someone else. A study led by Martin Seligman, the father of positive psychology, found that a one-time act of thoughtfulness led to an instant 10 percent increase in happiness and a 35 percent decrease in feelings of depression. During your time off, try to do a little something nice for someone else, be it a stranger or a friend or family member you’re vacationing with. Pick a bouquet of flowers, present shells you find on the beach or cook a surprise meal.
Carry gratitude back to your daily life. Gratitude encourages appreciation for all of life and greater happiness, both when you’re away and when you’re back in the thick of your regular routine. Take a little time each day to say thank you for food, clean water, fresh air, nature, shelter, health and love. Appreciate and savor all the good in your life, and you’ll be a happier, more mindful person every single day.