Dear New Shrink,
It seems to be the season for vacations and getaways. As a result I have booked a vacation and would like your advice for making the most of it. On previous vacations I have had a difficult time un-winding. I find that for most of the trip I am worrying about work, checking in with the office via e-mail and checking voicemails and thinking about how I will manage my workload upon my return. Given that my job is quite stressful, I am hoping you have some advice about how I can take time to relax and keep my mind off work. Thank you for your time.
Vacations provide a great opportunity to relax and unwind, but some people find that it takes the majority of their vacation to finally relax — and others keep themselves so busy that they need a vacation from their vacation. In planning your trip I would encourage you to schedule for flexibility. Give yourself the freedom to be spontaneous and make decisions based on your mood or the weather. This break in the structure of everyday life can help snap you into a state where you can relax and enjoy the world around you.
Unless certain attractions require advance tickets, try not to be too structured in your itinerary. Make a list of things you’d like to do instead of mapping out your days minute by minute. If you must organize your schedule, try grouping attractions by location and plan a day for each location. This way you will have a plan of the places you’d like to see but some flexibility in deciding when and if to go. You might also consider avoiding typical tourist stops as they may be filled with lines and long waits which can increase your anxiety level and keep you from relaxing. Try your best not to worry about fitting it all in — sometimes overdoing it on vacation results in feeling even more tired than when you left.
To start, unpack your suitcase soon after you arrive. Even if you are only planning to be away for a few days, try putting your things away to feel settled in your new surroundings. This will make your hotel room feel like a mini home away from home. Feeling confined and cluttered will certainly not help you relax.
Set a budget ahead of time. It’s natural to feel some anxiety if you feel that you are spending a lot of money. Using cash and setting a limit for each day can be a good way to keep track of your expenses and reduce anxiety about how much you’re spending or how high your credit card bill might end up at the end of your trip.
Take time to do things you enjoy and treat yourself to things you do not normally indulge in. As working professionals much of our time is often focused on taking care of other people. A vacation is a great time to reward yourself. Consider a fancy meal, scheduling a massage, attending a play or concert — do something that will help you relax and create memories that will last well past your vacation.
Try your best to resist the urge to remain connected to the office. Before you leave, designate someone in the office to respond to issues during your vacation. Then set the automatic responder on your e-mail and phone to indicate that you will be out of the office until a specified date and provide the contact details for your colleague. Knowing that someone else is responsible for handling issues that may come up in your absence may help to give some peace of mind during your vacation. If you must check in with the office consider setting parameters around this, such as checking in for 10 minutes at the start of each day. You may also find it beneficial to limit your general time on the phone, computer or social networking accounts so you can be in the moment and enjoy your surroundings.
Finally, you might also consider reserving an extra vacation day at the end of your trip. Having this extra time to adjust back to normal life may help you to tie up loose ends at home, unpack your suitcase, go grocery shopping, and get ready for the return to work.
Enjoy your time away and promise to make time for yourself — you deserve it!
KATRINA DAVY, M.A., Ed.M, is a Santa Monica-based professional career counselor. She holds degrees from Columbia and Cornell universities. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. All questions are kept anonymous; let us help you with your life matters!