It’s kind of funny, what we do to ourselves on vacation. Some kind of demented off-balancing act: too much food, drink and not enough exercise and forget about the sleep – booze destroys the last half of the sleep cycle.
Yet in this great escape there is no solace. What we do find are hangovers, bulging-waist lines, anxiety and more credit card debt.
Not exactly the recharge you were looking for, was it?
It makes sense though when you think of it. Ever hear of the American Syndrome? Researchers studied health and vitality of people on Friday and then asked the same questions to the same people on Monday.
Guess what they found?
People were worse on Monday. The weekend compounded unease and stress. People were in no way rejuvenated. They did not come to work ready to tackle new issues. They came back more tired from the weekend they had planned.
So what’s really going on here?
The annual vacation is simply a repetition of the cycle we replay all year. We train ourselves to misuse vacation time throughout the year by making poor choices each weekend.
Most of my patients have described to me the following scenario.
“Well Doc I got really stressed out before my vacation. Started working late so I would be caught up by the time I left.”
“Excuse me are you catching up or doing the work you would have had to do if you were here?”
“Both. So then I’m getting home later and eating later. Have a few extra beers to take the edge off. More tired in the morning and so I load up on the coffee. Working out? Yeah, right. No time for that. So my vacation starts”
At this point I interrupt and say, “Most people get sick before their week or two off. Did that happen to you?”
I’m surprised at how often, they say yes. It’s over 50% of the time. Working all year to have a week off and they are sick.
Ok, let’s say they didn’t get sick. This is how it unfolds.
“So I spend the first two or three days unwinding. Sure, I’m drinking too much, just trying to come off the roller coaster. Resting. Trying to recover. I hit that sweet spot. The one where I can actually rest and recharge for a day and then it happens. It’s Thursday or Friday. I can actually feel my mind thinking about work on Monday. It’s awful. Like a black hole dampening out the light.”
Usually there is a prolonged silence. They do look like a black hole has sucked them out. Bags under the eyes. Shoulders slumped.
Well the math breaks down a little different. So they said, Wednesday maybe Thursday, those were the good days. So that’s not a week off. That’s two days, a weekend. So we are back where we started.
DON’T DO THIS TO YOURSELF.
So, can agree that this model is broken? It’s a complete failure and will break you the longer you try to play with it.
Let’s start by looking at our weekend. The single most important thing you can do for your mental health is have some down time. The human mind and soul thrives on quiet time.
What to do with this time?
Here’s a list, pick at least two this weekend:
1) Meditate, 15 minutes in the morning and evening.
2) Pray: 15 minutes in the morning and evening.
3) Read: 30-60 minutes – it has to be something you love.
4) Stretch: 30 minutes, no music, turn off the stimuli.
5) Listen to music. See no problem, just don’t pretend to mulit-task. It doesn’t work.
6) Cook. Make something spectacular. Eat something with purpose. Call up someone you love but haven’t seen recently. Or, just as good, reach out to somebody new. Open up those horizons.
7) Take a walk, 30-60 minutes.
8) Go Outdoors.
9) Watch the sun rise.
10) Listen to running water, wind.
13) Make a cup of tea and read poems or dig out one of those classics. Something that expands the confines of your mind’s eye. Wow yourself.
14) Knitting. Repetitive motion releases serotonin.
15) Draw. Over the holiday break in December I drew my first picture since 10th grade art class. It was fun, nostalgic and a good way to bond with my daughter.
Reality dictates that stress will kill you over time. In his ground-breaking work, Hans Selye documented the effects of stress on health, the nervous system and our sense of well being.
Stress works on the body in a very peculiar way. Let’s say you get stressed out. Anxiety and tension are becoming your new best friends.
Stress levels range from 1-10. When we get stressed out we start at 0, then go up to an 8.
Popular wisdom would say we get stressed out and go back to 0. That’s not true. What really happens is that stress did not return to 0. What happens is that instead of 0, our new set point moves up a notch, to 1.
And that is how it gets us. Over time what we have is an ascending relationship to stress. It takes only a few years in high-stress environments to turn that stress starting point up to 50% of it’s maximum.
That’s how people snap.
They run too long on too much stress and before we know what is happening, the train comes off the rails. It’s almost never the particular event that causes people to loose it. Right? It’s the build up and breakdown. Suddenly that person who cut you off did it on purpose. They woke up with you in mind and won’t be happy until you are run off the road. Right?
So do yourself and those that are around you a favor. Pick two of the activities today to do over next weekend. Do this for a few months and you will have begun building a foundation in which you rest during the weekends and actually have fun on vacation.
You have a great vacation the same way you do anything that shines. You practice until you get it right.
(This post was printed about a year ago on TH3RD FORCE and was reprinted due to popular demand)