We can’t wait for summer holidays—whether it’s camping on the coast with our family or an overseas jaunt in Europe. But holidays can be stressful. A British survey found that 40 per cent of workers return to work feeling more stressed than before they left on holiday.
While the term “holiday stress” may seem like an oxymoron, in our always-connected electronic world, it’s becoming more difficult to totally disconnect and enjoy the moment. Dr Lori Kay, a therapist who also offers alternative therapies such as reiki and neurolinguistic programming, emphasises the importance of turning off the technology while on holiday.
“We do ourselves a disservice by not taking a mental health break”, she says. “Many people have forgotten how to relax. You need to ask yourself, ‘How do I actually relax?’”
Disconnecting is hard to do
For many people, workdays and downtime are governed by electronic devices. There’s no doubt that smartphones, laptops and tablets make communication easier. But Kay describes the way we use this technology as “an addictive process that [makes us] feel lost without that tool”. Turning these devices off is difficult to do.
In 2010 researchers asked 1000 students in 10 countries to turn off their electronic devices for 24 hours. Students repeatedly used the term “addiction” to describe their feelings. Researchers noted that “addiction to media may not be clinically diagnosed, but the cravings seem real—as do the anxiety and the depression” that accompany electronic abstinence.
Technology, however, is a mixed blessing. While being connected to home and/or work can make it easier to go on holiday, it also makes it increasingly difficult to disconnect from work and home stresses.
Feelings of stress may also arise during the trip because we dread the mountain of emails and voice messages that await us upon our return to the office. Kay advises that the key to a relaxing, stress-free holiday is to plan.
Before you leave
1. Have a 21-day countdown
Kay advises her clients to plan everything 21 days before leaving on holiday, including scheduling when to put “out of office” messages on voicemail and email. Let your major contacts know you’re going away, to minimise messages you have to deal with when you return.
2. Have a wind-up day
Leave your last day of work free for the “oops, I forgot” things. Don’t use the last day to madly try to finish a project or you’ll increase your stress level.
3. Set a predetermined work time
According to Expedia.com.au’s eleventh annual Vacation Deprivation survey, 22 per cent of Australians say they regularly check in with work while on holiday. If you have to remain accessible while away, Kay recommends setting a one-hour work period at the beginning of the day, say from 9 to 10 am. Make sure you limit your work to that hour only.
4. Conduct a holiday experiment
A couple of weeks before you go on holiday, unplug from technology for an entire day. If feelings of anxiety arise, figure out what they stem from. This is a trial run for your actual holiday, a time to figure out how you’re going to handle being unplugged.
5. Decide what kind of holiday you want
Kay recommends figuring out what type of holidayer you are and what type of break you want. Do you like the structure of tours and sightseeing, or would you rather lie by the pool? Plan a break that will recharge you, not increase your stress.
6. Give yourself a breather
Allow yourself a day to get ready before you leave on your trip. Leave on Sunday instead of Saturday so you have time to sleep in and pack.
7. Start your day in a relaxed state
Begin your day by meditating or do some deep breathing to calm and centre yourself. Don’t set an alarm clock; wake up when your body is rested and ready to get up.
8. Don’t overschedule activities
Rather than visiting six museums, schedule trips to a couple of museums and plan some downtime in between visits. Avoid the stress of trying to see everything—it’s just not possible.
9. Be in the moment
Despite your best-laid plans, if you start to feel stressed, Kay advises to stop. Look around at your surroundings and consciously enjoy them. Work will still be there, but you’ll never experience this moment again.
10. Indulge yourself in a special treat
Think of something you always deny yourself, such as a hot fudge sundae or a massage at the spa. Allow yourself to have at least one special holiday indulgence.
11. Come home a day or two early
Return on a Friday or Saturday if you’re back to work on Monday morning. Allow yourself a day to unpack and readjust to your everyday life. Don’t set yourself up to be stressed when you get back.
12. Make your first day a catch-up day
Plan to catch up on email and return phone messages your first day back. Allow yourself time to get back into the swing of things.
For stress and anxiety
- Asian or American ginseng
- lemon balm
- vitamin C
- multivitamins (containing vitamins A, C, E and the B-complex vitamins as well as trace minerals such as zinc, calcium, magnesium and selenium)
- For digestive and gastrointestinal health
- probiotics containing 5 to 10 billion CFUs of Lactobacillus acidophilus
- For motion sickness and nausea
- Dried herbal extracts taken as powders, capsules or teas:
- black horehound
Ask your health care practitioner about dosage and contraindication information.
Travel expert Claire Newell also emphasises that planning is key to a relaxing holiday.
Budget ahead of time
Many people overspend or run out of money before their trip is over. Newell advises before planning any holiday to assess what you can afford, set your budget and then stick to it. Take advantage of free activities.
Deal with a licensed travel agency or tour operator
Newell advises travellers to confirm exactly who they are doing business with. Research the company online and check them out with the Australian Federation of Travel Agents (afta.com.au).
Be careful giving credit card details online
Talk to a travel agent, rather than simply booking online, so you can ask questions. Read the terms and conditions carefully and purchase travel insurance. Check the currency the rates are quoted in. If a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is.
Book pet accommodations early
If you have pets, remember to make arrangements for their care well in advance, especially during summer holidays when many kennels and pet sitters are booked solid.
Organise your paperwork
Make a list of things you’ll need for your trip at least two weeks prior to departure. Print out all e-documents and tickets before you leave. Find your passport ahead of time.
“No matter how much you prepare, travel doesn’t always go as planned. So be flexible. Should itineraries change, go with the flow and you could be pleasantly surprised”, Newell says.