Quiet relaxing beach... but are all holidays like this?
FOR the past two years because of the travel restrictions of Covid-19, many people were not able to have a summer holiday, either at home or abroad.
As a result many of us are thinking about or planning to go on holidays this summer. We may have saved to go to a particular destination and are looking forward to fun and relaxation, time to switch off from the stresses of work and everyday life.
So why is it that holidays can also become a source of stress?
In fact, research shows that a significant minority of people find that they are as stressed or more stressed after their holidays than before their break.
And more importantly, what can we do to increase the likelihood that our holidays are actually relaxing?
There are a number of reasons why going on holidays may be stressful. The research points towards key contributory factors such as fear of overspending, family disagreements and tensions, unrealistic expectations and continued connectivity to work because of smartphones and devices.
So, taking these and other factors into account, the following are a few psychological tips which will hopefully help make the summer break an opportunity to really relax and recharge your physical and emotional batteries.
Try to get aerobic exercise such as brisk walking in the few weeks before you go on holidays. Exercise gets rid of the stress hormones and therefore helps us deal better with the normal stresses of travelling such as packing and airport queues (like the one pictured below).
It also reduces the likelihood that we will spend the first few days of the holiday trying to unwind, so that we can begin to relax from day one.
Decide on a daily budget for the holiday and stick to it. It is worth noting that low cost activities such as picnics are enjoyed by most families.
Just because you pay more does not mean you will enjoy it more.
Try not to be a slave to the technology when on holiday. Where possible, it is a really good idea to leave work phones at home, with a message letting people known when you will be back in the office.
Set up an out of office reply for your work email with the same message. Ideally, set the message to indicate a return date to work which is a day or two after you actually return, thus giving yourself that extra time to sift through messages and prioritise.
Where it is important that you check emails while away, set a time aside for doing this, rather than being constantly available.
When we are constantly 'on call', this is very stressful and does not allow us to mentally unwind.
So it is far better to set aside half an hour every morning to check work messages than to allow email notifications to interrupt time on a beach or during a family meal.
At times we need a reality check about the pressure we are putting on ourselves to be constantly available.
Maybe the world wouldn't end if I don't check emails for a full 48 hours?
Managing expectations of holidays is hugely important in terms of dealing with the potential stress.
Many individuals and families compare themselves to others who they perceive as having the 'perfect' holiday and wonder why they are not.
Every holiday cannot be an idyllic getaway but that does not mean it cannot be an enjoyable break.
Family dynamics and tensions that exist at home may lead to arguments on holiday. This is perfectly normal. Taking a little 'cooling off' time is a good idea when tempers are high.
When there has been a bereavement prior to a holiday, it is important for people not to expect too much of themselves either physically or emotionally while away.
The same applies when someone has been experiencing depression. It is crucial to set low expectations as it can be very hard to be in 'holiday mode' when life has been difficult.
Parents will often remark how dramatically their holidays have changed since they were children.
Indeed, many family holidays centre around fun activities for the kids. Whilst this can be very enjoyable, it is a good idea for the adults to ensure that they are getting some 'me time'.
This might just mean some time alone to have a walk on the beach while the other parent or family member minds the children.
Or if there are teenagers, give them a little responsibility for their own entertainment so that the adults can have some adult time.
Finally, from a psychological point of view, we always recommend that the annual summer holiday should not be the only time where we focus on rest and relaxation.
By arranging occasional weekend breaks where possible and pleasant evening activity throughout the year, we feel less pressure to have the 'perfect' summer holiday.
We all need the mini-breaks and tiny holidays to maintain our psychological wellbeing. A long lunch break with phones switched off or an early morning walk could be regularly built in to a busy schedule.
Enjoy the summer!
Imelda Ferguson and Julie O'Flaherty are chartered clinical psychologists, both based in private practice in Tullamore. Through Mind Your Self Midlands, they run courses on Positive Psychology and Mindfulness through the year. They can be contacted through the Psychological Society of Ireland (Find a Psychologist section) or on their Facebook page, Mind Your Self Midlands.
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