Not only is it essential for you to take vacations and breaks from your normal routine, but there are ways you can ensure that those you take are more therapeutic and soul nourishing. This is an update to a post from the Heartspoken archives.
Breaks are essential to our well-being
As soon as we lifted off the runway, I could viscerally feel the layers of stress begin to melt away. The phone was off; very few people knew how to contact me; and I had cleared my desk pretty well before I left. Throughout the week I was away, I felt present with my surroundings and my family in a way I hadn't in far too long.
I didn't need to carve out time to meditate and be with God. Every minute, steeped in nature and surrounded by loved ones—whether we were sightseeing, socializing with friends, or just hanging out—seemed to be its own prayerful meditation and sacred activity.
This week away was so soul-nourishing that on the plane coming home, I took some time to think about why it had seemed so therapeutic and what I could learn from it to take back to my daily routines and to share with you. I'm convinced that occasional vacations—be they big trips, short getaways, or “staycations”—can be essential times of rest and restoration with real benefits to your physical, mental, and spiritual health.
So don't just think about those breaks—take them.
This quote from Tsh Oxenreider and her Art of Simple website says it beautifully:
“What gets scheduled gets done.” ~ Michael Hyatt
As early in the year as possible, take out your calendar and pencil in some time off—both longer times (e.g., a week or two) and some long weekends or even some odd days here and there. Even if you have to change the dates later, you'll have freed up some time into which you can move other activities and will minimize the stress of rescheduling. Besides saving space for time off, this allows you to look forward to these opportunities for rest and recreation. The word “recreation” derives from “re-creation,” and that is the mindset we need to adopt.
If you get to one of these days marked on your calendar and haven't made plans to go away, just shut down your computer, walk away from your desk, get in your car, and visit the nearest park, arboretum, or museum. You'll feel refreshed and nourished.
To make your vacations more soul-nourishing, give these a try:
There's nothing here that happiness and wellness researchers haven't been telling us for years, but I hope that hearing them from me, your heartspoken friend, will encourage you to take action and implement some of these vacation strategies in your own life. You've marked off the time on your calendar. Here are a few ways to make sure it does you the most good:
1. Set the expectation that you'll be unavailable until a specific date and time.
This applies to friends, family, and professional associates. If you're anticipating an issue coming up while you're gone, make arrangements before you leave. Ask your sister to check in on your elderly aunt. Ask your neighbor to be on the lookout for that package delivery. Make someone else responsible for problems that might arise at work while you're gone (and try not to second-guess their decisions when you return).
I've started using the following vacation responder message for incoming emails while I'm gone: I'm out of the office—trying to practice what I preach and unplugging from email—and will only be able to check emails occasionally until XXXXX. Thanks for your understanding. You can usually activate or change this message in the Settings area of your email provider. In Gmail, you can specify the starting and ending date for this message to be sent, and you can specify that it only go to those in your address book. You will still see your incoming mail, but this vacation responder message will decrease the sender's expectation that you'll reply before you get back. I haven't yet had the nerve to do what Michael Hyatt advocates: he sets up an out-of-office email message that says he won't see any emails that come while he's gone and instructs the sender to either contact the person he's left in charge or re-send important messages after his return.
2. Clear your desk and tackle the most critical items on your “To Do” list before you leave.
My brother Bruce, founder and CEO of Newground Social Investment, once told me that if he could get as much done all the time as he gets done in the few days before he leaves on vacation, he could have been president of the world by now.
There's some truth to that.
I always start the week before a vacation with a daunting list of things to do. Invariably, the day before I leave, I've done a great deal, but there are some things that clearly are not going to get done. At that moment, I usually realize the world won't end and I can make arrangements for doing them later. Putting the To Do list away before I leave ensures better relaxation while I'm gone.
3. Unplug from your digital devices as much as possible.
Set certain times to check your phone or digital device and put it away the rest of the time. I still struggle with this one. I do turn off the voicemail on my home phone (because I don't like strangers to know I'm out of town) and leave a message on my business voicemail that I won't be back in the office until a certain date and to please return their call after that time. This keeps me from having the dreaded list of voicemail messages I have to deal with when I got home.
4. Make sure you plan a change of scenery.
The trip I spoke of at the beginning of this post had the change of scenery built in (flying from our Virginia home to our daughter's home in the Southwest), but even if you're vacationing closer to home, make sure some of the time is out of your house with non-routine surroundings and activities. Not only is this refreshing, but it makes you more observant and forces your brain to engage in different pathways than usual. I couldn't believe how many fresh, creative ideas I had while I was gone.
5. Identify a purpose for your vacation and focus on it.
This may sound like work instead of rest, but I really consider it a form of mindfulness—being present for what's going on and not letting yourself be distracted by what you left behind or what has to be done when you get back. If one of the reasons for your vacation is to visit family, for instance, make sure you have some quality time with them. If the purpose of a visit to your adult children is to help them with the kids, you don't need to schedule too many tourist or social activities. If the purpose for your vacation is to see a part of the world you haven't seen before, really immerse yourself in that place and that culture. Remembering the purpose of your vacation can help you choose more decisively what you'll do and what you won't do during that time.
6. Build essential connection time into your vacation.
On our recent trip (See “Adventures in the High Desert and Mountains of New Mexico”), I made time for all four of life's essential connections. I connected with God and nature over and over again, marveling at God's creation and immersing myself in the natural world. I connected with myself by unplugging somewhat from my digital devices and spending time reading in the morning coolness. I connected with others in time spent with my family and dear friends. These are the soul-nourishing activities of life—the keys to a Heartspoken life. Don't forget them when you're on vacation by cramming too much activity into too little time.
My friend and veteran traveler, Esther Miller, reminds us to allow time for the unexpected. It's great fun to take a road that looks interesting or explore a destination you've never heard of but you happened to see the sign on the highway. A museum volunteer might tell you about a “local secret” you shouldn't miss (that you'd never find in your tourism literature). Feeling free to explore these serendipitous discoveries can enrich your travel/vacation experience tremendously.
7. Don't schedule anything the day after you return.
I have a confession to make.
Except for my immediate family, the date I tell people I'll be back and available is always a day later than my physical return home. For me, this is an enormously important buffer. It allows me to sleep late, unpack, open the mail, read the back newspapers (okay, this mostly means finding out who died while I was gone), do laundry, and simply get acclimated to being back.
Adapt and improvise
These tips can all be adapted for shorter or longer vacations and to suit what you and your family consider fun and meaningful. Be sure, however, to understand the wisdom behind each of them: we need to rest and we need to take breaks from our work or regular routines, even when we love those routines. They make us more productive and creative when we return.
This kind of vacation is good for the mind.
It's good for the body.
It's good for the soul.
“Vacations are not optional; they’re essential.
Recharge so you can serve the people you’re called to love.”
~ MICHAEL HYATT
I love learning new ways to live a healthier, more Heartspoken life. What tips can you add to this list? I'd love to hear them in the comments below.
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