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Four strategies to truly unwind and revitalise on holiday

Whether you are planning a holiday or staycation this summer, Dr William Van Gordon, Associate Professor of Contemplative Psychology at the University of Derby, provides tips on how to make the most of your break and truly relax. 

By Dr William Van Gordon - 22 August 2023

For many people, the holiday period provides an opportunity to take a well-earned break, reconnect with family and friends, travel and undertake new adventures. Perhaps of greater importance, holidays allow us to slow down the pace of life and reconnect with ourselves. 

However, even though we may be officially on holiday, there can still be many demands on our time, such as looking after children, undertaking projects around the house and garden, or catching up with life more generally. In fact, even the act of planning and going on vacation, particularly when travelling with other family members or people, can involve a fair amount of work.

For some of us, even when we eventually get the opportunity to take some rest, we find it difficult to do so. Perhaps this is because our minds have become so accustomed to being busy or because we’ve never properly learned how to rest in a restorative way. Either way, it’s essential for our health, well-being and general growth as human beings, that we regularly take the opportunity to let go of stress and anxiety, cultivate mental quiet and reconnect with our inner self. Consequently, the following outlines four strategies that we can use when on holiday for helping us truly unwind and revitalise ourselves:

1. Take regular pauses from electronic devices

While on holiday, try not to fall into the trap of substituting being at work for spending hours each day messaging on the phone, scrolling through social media, playing on the computer, or watching TV. If you are somebody who finds it difficult to regulate your use of electronic devices, try setting a time period, say between 30 and 90 minutes at a time, during which you will not allow yourself to use the device. During these periods, become aware of how often you impulsively reach for your phone but also notice how each time you show self-restraint throughout the timeframe in question, your dependence on the electronic device gradually starts to ease. You can set such periods of downtime several times throughout the day. 

2. Spend time with your breath

 Focusing attention on the breath has been shown to facilitate calm and relaxation by slowing down the heart rate, perspiration rate, respiratory rate, and other bodily functions controlled by the involuntary nervous system. Breath awareness has also been shown to help the mind collect and quieten itself by interrupting the normal cycle of mental chatter. Therefore, once in the morning, once in the afternoon and then once again before going to sleep at night, sit down and do nothing except follow the natural flow of your in-breath and out-breath for 10 minutes at a time. Stop, breathe, and smile gently to yourself.

3. Observe the hustle and bustle of the mind

There is a big difference between doing nothing whilst zoning out versus allowing yourself to rest in a truly restorative manner. Indeed, spending most of the holiday sitting or lying down with a mind that is caught up in ruminative inner dialogue can be tiring and stressful. Therefore, several times each day for periods of five minutes at a time, take a psychological step back and observe the hustle and bustle of your mind. Try to notice how one thought gives way to another, as well as how a given thought might be triggered by, or act as a trigger for, a particular feeling or sensation. Allow thoughts to come and go without becoming distracted by their specific content, such that you start to relate to them as nothing more than waves on the surface of the mind. 

4. Find balance

Being on holiday should mean a complete change of mindset whereby all activities are undertaken in a calm and relaxing manner. However, this doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to spend the entire holiday doing nothing or basking in the hot sun – doing so can lead to exhaustion. At the other end of the spectrum, it’s also not advisable to try to cram in too much and spend the holiday racing from one activity or attraction to the next. Therefore, each day of the holiday, try to find a balance that combines periods of restorative physical and mental relaxation with some low-intensity physical exertion. This will obviously vary depending on your ability and fitness levels, but examples might include taking a morning or evening stroll or run on the beach, swimming, going to the gym or an exercise class, or playing a low-intensity sport. 

Cultivating deep relaxation isn't something that will necessarily happen on its own just because we are not at work – it requires some effort and planning on our part. 

However, if we use the holiday period to learn and apply relaxation strategies such as those outlined above, then the mind and body should gradually begin to unwind and rejuvenate as the days go by. In turn, this will improve sleep quality, life perspective and clarity of mind, which will further help us reconnect with ourselves.

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About the author

Dr William Van Gordon

Dr William Van Gordon
Associate Professor in Contemplative Psychology

Associate Professor in Contemplative Psychology, Dr William Van Gordon is a Chartered Psychologist and international expert in the research and practice of meditation and mindfulness.

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