A vacation is like a shiny mirage in the middle of the monotonous desert of life. As you approach it, you think it will be perfect. Once you arrive, the mirage evaporates (as mirages do) into a less than perfect reality, mired with “vacation stress.” As author Elbert Hubbard once said, “No man needs a vacation so much as the man who has just had one.”
Vacation stress can arise from several sources: physical exhaustion due to the means of transportation or amount of time traveled, anxiety brought on by the novelty and challenge of a new environment, and relationship tension due to the constant, close proximity to family, friends, or a partner. Once you arrive at your destination, your routine can disintegrate into late nights, irregular mealtimes and a swarm of countless decisions that you are not used to making.
Giving yourself a two-week honeymoon period when you return from your vacation may help you recover from vacation stress. During this time, it is wise to follow a routine, eat well, minimize decision-making and spend some time alone. Here are 4 simple tips to get you started:
1. Follow a routine
Many of us return from vacation with a disrupted circadian rhythm and sleep deprivation on account of late nights, early mornings and jet lag. Going to bed an hour earlier than usual, for two full weeks, helps you pay off sleep debt and slips you back into your usual routine which will return structure and control to your day.
You can also help your body re-establish its circadian rhythm by managing light exposure, meals, and activities.
Dim the lights several hours before you head to bed. Wear blue-blocking glasses and use blue-blocking screen programs on your electronic equipment. Expose your eyes to daylight as soon as you wake up, and again after breakfast. Head outdoors whenever you can, throughout the day.
Have your largest meal in the morning after a long overnight fast (you want to “break” the “fast” when you “breakfast”) and eat your lightest meal of the day in the evening. Avoid caffeine and alcohol from late afternoon onwards.
Exercise early in the day. Head to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Avoid loud noise, excitement and social activity several hours before bedtime.
2. Take care of your gut
The gut’s microbial population is key to digestive well-being, and it is highly sensitive to change. Stress, anxiety and a change in diet (such as overindulging in food and alcohol), can alter the microbiota profile within a surprisingly short period and give rise to conditions such as indigestion, constipation, or irritable bowel syndrome. These ailments disrupt normal digestion, making you feel unwell when you return home.
Adding fermented foods such as probiotic plain yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut or natto to your meals every day can help rebalance your microbial ecosystem. Plant-based foods also nurture microbial diversity so avoid the processed stuff and stick to eating whole foods that are cooked from scratch. Remember to stay hydrated and follow the eating suggestions described in Tip 1.
3. Minimize decision-making
Give yourself a two-week honeymoon period of minimal decision-making. Delegate decisions wherever you can and work to a set routine. If possible, avoid making any major decisions at all. If you foresee decisions that might arise during this time, aim to get them out of your way before you leave on your vacation. Also, try to avoid multitasking. Work serially on tasks, focusing on one thing at a time.
4. Escape mentally while spending time alone
We often use our vacations as a means of escape from our problem-filled lives. When we return from vacation, we can still bring the idea of escapism into our daily routine through books and nature.
While spending time alone, immerse yourself for half an hour, every day, in a really good book. Forget your troubles and escape into someone else’s life, space and time through the power of reading.
Our vacations tend to bring us closer to nature, whether we’re by the sea or simply spending less time indoors. Take this means of escapism back home with you by infusing nature into your daily routine. Exposure to nature has a calming effect on the mind and body, so take some time alone, find your nearest green space, grab that really good book, and escape!
Once you’ve recovered from the stress of your vacation, revisiting your holiday photos and actively dwelling on all the “good” times will help you store happy memories of your experiences. By the time next summer arrives, your vacation stress will have faded into a distant memory, and you’ll be itching to do it all over again.
Mithu Storoni is the author of Stress Proof and a University of Cambridge-trained medical doctor, certified in Ophthalmology, and also holds a Ph.D. in Neuro-ophthalmology. She has undertaken research in Neuro-ophthalmology and Perceptual Neuroscience at Cambridge, in London and at Harvard Medical School. She speaks several languages and is a teacher of hot yoga.
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