Robbie Stakelum outlines the benefits of giving yourself a break.
After a long, busy and stressful few months the much anticipated summer break is on the horizon, the oasis where we can switch off, unplug and disconnect from the stressors of life awaits.
For those struggling to stay motivated, who feel dissatisfied with work, maybe even on the path towards a burnout or just feeling lost, the summer break can be a valuable opportunity to hit pause, reflect and rest. So let’s take a look at how to make the most of your summer break, while improving your wellbeing.
Starting with the basics, plan plenty of time for rest. Resist the urge to fill your time with tasks and responsibilities. It can be tempting to replace your work ‘to do list’ with an endless list of personal jobs. If you’re used to busy periods you may even enjoy the rush of busyness, it can provide a stimulant to help get through your day and motivate you, while for others keeping busy is a distraction mechanism to avoid thinking about or dealing with deeper problems. So make a conscious effort to plan some downtime just for you in the weeks ahead.
“Make a conscious effort to plan some downtime just for you in the weeks ahead”
Prolonged periods of stress are not healthy for us. While looking after our mental wellbeing should be a year round effort, not just a summer activity, there are significant benefits to taking that much needed summer vacation. A 40-year-long study of over 1200 people found that taking a three week break prolongs your life. The body needs time to rest and repair, by taking a longer break it allows your body’s heart rate to slow, blood pressure to drop and cortisol levels (the stress hormone) to reduce over a prolonged period of time. These healthy changes in the body are shown to boost productivity, creativity, focus and motivation when you do return to work.
“Healthy changes in the body are shown to boost productivity, creativity, focus and motivation when you do return to work”
Longer vacations boost the parasympathetic nervous system, which is effectively your body’s anti-stress system. When you meditate, go for walks, spend time in nature or do gentle yoga, this also activates the same system. Our bodies are not designed to operate at a high level of stress for a prolonged period, vacations shouldn’t be seen as a luxury, but a necessary antidote to stress that can safeguard your physical and emotional wellbeing.
When you experience acute or chronic stress it’s difficult to process what is happening in your life, everything feels blurred and you’re typically out of touch with how you’re feeling. This can be incredibly frustrating as you find it difficult to identify the causes of why you feel stressed, demotivated, lost or unhappy. Essentially you cannot see the woods from the trees, and the best remedy for this is distance.
“Taking holidays allows you to create mental and physical distance”
Taking holidays allows you to create mental and physical distance and this healthy separation between your problems or stress triggers and yourself can provide a better, or different, perspective on life.
If something in your life is feeling off balance and you’re struggling to identify a problem you’d be surprised what some time off can do. Simply taking that downtime to yourself can unlock new ideas for what comes next.
How to complement a vacation
Here are some things to consider that can complement your vacation time over the summer months.
Using apps like Insight Timer or Youtube you can easily find guided meditations that can help you relax and disconnect.
“Spending time in nature reduces stress, anger and sadness while improving your self-confidence and self-esteem”
Studies show that spending time in nature reduces stress, anger and sadness while improving your self-confidence and self-esteem in addition to improving your physical health.
Rest can be both physical and mental, and physical exercise can improve mental rest by releasing endorphins and helping you to work through, or out of, some of your problems. Planning time for rest doesn’t exclude physical activities.
Time with Family and Friends
Humans are inherently social beings. A problem shared is a problem halved. Sometimes we feel guilty about complaining about our own issues when others are also suffering, but bottling up feelings of frustration, stress or sadness rarely ever works out. Find someone in your social circle with an empathetic ear to share what is going on. Simply talking about the problem can give you a whole new perspective, even without the input from the other person. When we are stuck in our own head we can lose rationality, and start to spiral.
When you don’t have access to coaching, structured journaling can be a valuable tool to help process your feelings or thoughts. If you’re planning on using your time off to reconnect to yourself and a sense of purpose to rectify some negative feelings you are experiencing.
One of the benefits of living in Belgium is the slower pace in the summer months. Come August, and even late July, there is a mass exodus with schools closed, expats returning home, institutions taking recess and local businesses closing up shop. So take advantage of the summer months and prioritize your wellbeing with long vacations and activities that improve your mental wellbeing.
Sometimes it feels like we live in a society that is loyal to the daily grind, where stress is a hallmark of success or importance and where prioritizing your wellbeing is seen as a form of selfishness. But it shouldn’t be. We can get so caught up in our lives that at the very least we should take the time over summer to disconnect from work and stress, and reconnect to ourselves.
Robbie is a life coach, working with clients feeling lost and disconnected to help them connect to a sense of purpose by capturing clarity, building balance and pursuing peace.