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H is for...HOLIDAY

It's that time of year again - time to pack your bags and get away from it all! As I write this here in the UK, we have just begun our summertime six weeks school holidays. They can be a mixed bag - filling us with both excitement and dread! The excitement at the thought of long lie ins, relaxed days and less to-dos. Dread of the long stretches of boredom that inevitably creep in after the novelty has worn off, the stress of planning a get away and the cost on both our time and money.

The culture of taking a holiday changes depending on where you live and the chapter of the life you are in. If you live in Scandinavian countries everything winds down from July until September, and communities en-masse disappear to warmer climes or their cabin by the lake to escape. In America, vacations are few and far between, with some workers not even taking the allocated two weeks per year holiday entitlement. As a child, the six weeks school holidays seemed to last forever, now as a working mum, they disappear as quickly as ice cream melts in the sun.

And how often do we get ill during our long awaited, precious time off? Have you experienced the frustration of waiting for your leave, to then only spend half of it in bed nursing a cold! I used to work in education and in the half term breaks, Christmas and Easter holidays or start of the summer I would come down with a virus of some kind from the sheer exhaustion of keeping going. My body would relax and my immune system would give into whatever bug was circulating.

Add to this the practicalities of going away: organising the trip, planning the itinerary, washing, prepping and packing. Along with the booking of child care, kids activities, the kennels or cattery, vaccination updates, passport renewal, weather checks, currency exchange, luggage weighing, sunscreen buying, ensuring every plug is switched off (except the trusted fridge freezer!) and the house is locked up like Fort Knox (and double checked, three times!) before you've even pulled away from the driveway!

It's a wonder why we go through this onslaught of activity every year! And so, as you can see, this double-edge sword of holiday and relaxation time can be difficult to navigate. But surely , holidays can be less stressful and more frequent than a long awaited two weeks in the sun? What about mini-breaks, micro-relaxation and daily doses of switching off and getting away from it all? And are there ways to de-stress before you've even set foot on golden sands? Read on to find ways that holidays can improve your wellbeing, solutions to the age old phrase from the back seat "Are we nearly there yet!?" and practical tips on how to switch off long before you jet off. Consider this your holiday wellbeing guide!

Change is good

"A change is as good as a rest", so the saying goes. And it is true - when we do things differently, we alter the connections in our brain, which acts as a reset button. So, instead of the default mode we are used to, our brain operates using new pathways, creating new memories and connecting parts of our brain that may have been dormant. This is why holidays are so good for us, but also why we find them stressful.

Our brain has to work harder when faced with newness - and that's what a holiday is - a change from the norm. And this doesn't have to be a 2 week get away, no, it can be as simple as taking a different route to work, changing the position of your office desk and chair or trying something new from the menu in your local restaurant .

Change can happen on a very basic and mundane level, and may do us wonders. Reading fiction instead of your usual self-help books. Listening to a different radio station or podcast. Taking the train instead of the car or bus. Creating a new recipe from your favorite ingredients. Wearing a new colour or pattern. Writing a letter by hand, instead of sending an email. These subtle shifts in action, create new thoughts and feelings that you may not have experienced before, or have long forgotten.

So give yourself the simple gift of change - you can take a holiday from your usual routine and enjoy the benefits of boosting your brain health and building new memories.

A break from the norm

Similarly, choose a day a week where you give yourself a break from your usual routine and deadlines. Set your alarm earlier, or later. Go out for breakfast, or make a beautiful tray of your favorites and eat it in bed. Choose different clothes, hairstyle and accessories. Go without make up. Have lunch outside. Take an afternoon nap. Walk everywhere. Enjoy a picnic tea, fish and chips by the beach or a ready meal (gasp!) if you cook a lot.

My point here is to create a day that is very different to any other day in the week. This is a holiday away from your usual, daily grind. And it only takes a bit of planning and doesn't have to cost a thing. It is important to shift your mindset and habits. If you can't manage a full day - choose a morning or afternoon, or even a couple of hours.

The micro-break

Your long awaited get-away-from-it all holiday in July, will seem like a long way off in January! Half a year is a very long time to wait to rest and recharge. So too is waiting until the weekend, or worse still - wishing the week away until Saturday comes around.

And as I have mentioned, building up to a holiday, which is months away, is not good for you. Additionally, you may not be in a position to take time off work and may work at 2 or 3 different jobs or have caring responsibilities. And so, this is where the micro-break comes into its own.

A micro-break can happen in your day for as little as 5-15 minutes. It is based on resetting your brain, doing something different and creating a pause in your day. For example, making a cup of tea and drinking it slowly, can be a micro-break. Going for a walk in your lunch time, sitting on a bench or feeding the birds can be a micro-break. Having a bath, with bubbles and the door shut and locked, is also a micro-break.

I've taken these little doses of rest whilst the kettle has been boiling, in between sending emails or whilst walking back from the school drop off. I use these moments to stretch, check in with my breathing and release any tension before getting back into action mode. Resetting yourself regularly supports your nervous system, and allows for a reduction in stress levels, improves focus and brings you back into the present - rather than ploughing on through your day on autopilot.

Bring on the boredom

I believe in boredom. I see it as a vital part of our lives. Boredom is important for adults as well as children. And the phrase "Are we nearly there yet!" should ring true in more circumstances than just the car packed full of suitcases and the kitchen sink.

Why? Shouldn't we make it our aim to banish boredom and fill our days with fun, laughter and activity! I don't think so. When our lives are so full to the brim with stuff, there's very little room for inactivity and reflection. Creativity, problem solving and imagination are ignited when we switch off, daydream a little and stare out of the window. Those moments of inspiration and brilliance flow easily when there is no stuff or to-do's in the way.

Have you ever had a great idea whilst standing in the shower, just before falling off to sleep or when you are in between tasks? This is because, you brain and body are in a different state and can respond to suggestions from internal and external stimuli in a new and interesting ways.

So, I am giving you permission here to do what many teachers disregard as inattention, and that is to daydream. Let your mind wander, allow it to drift off on a tangent all of its own, with no focus, agenda or outcome. If it helps, look out of the window, watch the clouds passing, people watch or star gaze.


How often do you switch off your mobile/tablet/device? Once a day, once a week or never? And where is your mobile/tablet/device right now? Are you using it to read this? Is it next to you? Does it live in your pocket or are you happy to leave it in one place throughout your day?

I'm not here to demonize technology. It is an important and incredible tool. And that is my point - it is a tool. Can you imagine walking round with any other type of tool in your pocket/bag/hand all day long? Unless you are a tradesperson, it's unlikely that you'll keep a spanner, spirit level or wrench to hand at all times!

So, take a break from the tech. Go hands free in the true sense, and put it down! Start small, especially if this is uncomfortable for you. Choose a central point to charge your phone, plug it into this when you get home, and leave it there. Don't take your phone into the bathroom (or toilet). Replace your phone alarm with an actual alarm clock by your bedside. Watch a programme on a television and not a laptop or tablet. Don't multi-task either, give one activity your full attention. Stop mindlessly scrolling whilst waiting - be bored. Take control of your tech time, rather than it controlling you.

Plan to be spontaneous

Now, this might sound like a contradiction. But there is a saying - discipline creates freedom. If you want to get the most out of your free time and use it however you want, then plan it into your diary. Create the space you need by planning and preparing for the free time you crave.

Writing it down will help you stick to it. It will be more likely to happen if you treat your free time like you would an appointment. And then it's up to you what you do with that time. It could be an hour, an afternoon or a whole day. But move your schedule around and make it happen.

Slow down sooner

Don't crash and burn as I always used to. Christmas holidays were a classic for this. The build up and run up to 'the big day' is so busy and fraught, that by the time the main event happens on 25th December, I used to be full of cold and miserable. Similarly, in the half term school holidays, it would take me at least 2 days to unwind, 3 days of feeling worn out and maybe 2 days enjoying the time off before getting back in the saddle and hitting the ground running again!

I would suggest slowing down sooner rather than later. Take your foot off the pedal, and shift down a gear at a time - a gradual decrease of speed, rather than an emergency stop.

Take the weeks before a holiday to plan ahead. For example if you are going abroad: set a date in your calendar to check or renew your passport well in advance - so this does not come as a surprise (as it did for me one year!) Order currency in advance or online. Check bags/luggage for size, for needed repairs or replacement. Leave said bags in a separate room and fill during the 2 weeks leading up to your get away. Wash clothing and put straight into your bags, rather than back in your drawer.

Make the transition from being at home to going away as simple as possible. Write lists, consult calendars and have conversely on to get yourself organised.

Holidays, in whatever shape or size are good for us. They can be restful and relaxing. And you can take the time you need to enjoy the change of pace in your days. I've only covered a few points here, there's so much to say about holidays! If you'd like to leave a comment, share your thoughts or get in touch, I'd love to hear from you. Subscribe to my blog to get all the latest updates and posts and let's live well together!

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