Saturday 21 September 2019

How to really relax on holiday

It's important to unwind during a break, writes clinical psychologist Linda Blair

Beach summer holidays woman in happy freedom concept with arms raised out in happiness. Woman model wearing white bikini and beach hat on Big Island, Hawaii.
Beach summer holidays woman in happy freedom concept with arms raised out in happiness. Woman model wearing white bikini and beach hat on Big Island, Hawaii.

Linda Blair

We all look forward to summer, and the chance it gives us to unwind and relax, renew energy, and enjoy long hours of daylight. But, despite high hopes, many people start September feeling stressed and anything but relaxed.

It is in fact those high expectations that create the disappointment so many of us feel after our holidays. Daniel Gilbert, in his book Stumbling on Happiness, explains how notoriously inaccurate we are when we try to remember how past events made us feel and when we estimate which ones will make us happy.

Comparing distorted memories and inaccurate expectations with reality is one reason why summer so often disappoints.

Another is that, in our eagerness — and for some, fear of boredom — we over-plan our holidays. This is despite a survey carried out by lastminute.com which found nearly a third of people feel stressed when planning their summer holiday.

Gabriella Tonietto and Selin Malkac at Ohio State University compared the experience of participants who imagined taking part in carefully-planned leisure activities with those who imagined something more spontaneous. Less planning was associated with greater enjoyment.

Rather than falling into any of the habits that will sabotage the pleasures of summer, here are some suggestions to help you start September with energy and a smile.

Begin by simplifying your holiday plans: Minimising the travel involved is a great first step. A survey by Ford S-Max found nearly a third of respondents consider a

staycation to be less stressful than travel abroad, and there are so many places in Ireland to choose. For example, if you holiday near the sea and take opportunities to swim or walk, you’ll enjoy a more positive mood and better sleep. You’ll also return home in good shape.

And don’t feel you have to book a long holiday to derive benefits: Jeroen Nawijn at the University of Rotterdam found holiday happiness is unrelated to length of stay. Instead, it’s what you do that counts. Nawijn found only those who rated their holiday as ‘very relaxing’ enjoyed lasting benefits from the experience. Therefore, use some of the money you save when staying near home to treat yourself to a massage or perhaps a spa day.

As suggested by Tonietto and Malkac’s study, don’t over-schedule: You’ll enjoy the freedom that comes with spontaneity rather than following a strict plan that, once you’re actually there, may not seem suitable.

Don’t fear boredom: Psychologists have shown it’s linked with increased creativity.

And why not keep the best memories of your holiday intact so you can enjoy the benefits of your summer for longer, knowing those lovely reminders are accurate? Each evening, write down the three most enjoyable moments of your day.

Perhaps most importantly, start developing a mindful attitude so that by September it’s become a habit. Rather than expecting things to turn out in a particular way, approach each day with an open mind. After all, no moment will ever be like any other.

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