Ready for time off work? The secret of a relaxing holiday

Holiday luck

Doing nothing, leaning back, clearing your head and relaxing. This is what most of us have been longing to do since the year started and finally, the summer holidays have arrived! But what we imagined as feeling incredibly restful over the recent months turns out to be the greatest chal-lenge of your holiday.
Finally, you’re lying there in the sun, your eyes closed, on your beach-towel by a lake, pool area or the sea, as you’ve been dreaming of for a long time now. Your body is calm and relaxed, but your mind is working flat out. Your thoughts jump from your last meeting to the school parents’ evening, via planning a birthday celebration to doing your laundry and shopping. Plagued by the thoughts pinging backwards and forwards, you toss and turn on your towel, trying not to think about anything, but the boomerang of your thoughts hits hard. Clearing your head just isn’t work-ing. Everything possible goes round in your mind, is thought through and written on mental Post-its for later, but the longed-for relaxation stays away.

Although regular breaks and holidays are hugely important for your health, many of us no longer know how to relax properly. In all the years of working, studying and making an effort, many peo-ple seem to have forgotten the high art of rest and relaxation.

Why do so many of us find it hard, mostly as the holiday starts, to let go of everyday stresses and strains and enjoy the here and now? How can the human mind best relax and unwind when on holiday? Experts have been researching this for years. To make your holiday restful, we have summarised a few of their findings here:

Tips for a restful holiday

Before you go away:
  • Shift down a gear at work. The time away on holiday is important, but so is the time right before your holiday too. Experts indicate that “the higher the workload before the first day of your holiday, the less rest you get during it” (https://www.aargauerzeitung.ch/leben/forschung-technik/urlaubsreif-warum-und-wie-man-am-besten-ferien-macht-134680269). Powering down from 100 to zero is the worst thing you can do and is not recommended. Instead of accepting another new project in the weeks before your holiday, it’s better to concentrate on simpler tasks with definite deadlines. If this isn’t possible, train your substitute early, so you can hand over the pending work on the day before you go away with a clear conscience. If you are self-employed, inform your customers of your holiday absence well in advance.
  • Careful planning is important. Going on holiday unprepared may be exciting but is seldom relaxing. Preparation is important if your holiday is to be a success. An important aspect here is clarifying requirements. If you’re going on holiday on your own, this is simple. But if you’re going with other people, such as your partner, family or friends, this already complicates the matter. What we need from a holi-day can differ greatly. That’s why it’s worth discussing in advance. Who has what interests or requirements? What do you have in common? Who is going to compromise on what? – alt-hough, ultimately, the compromise ratio needs to be balanced. Because disagreements and arguments will affect the restfulness of the holiday and can be experienced as very stressful. In addition, experts indicate that everybody should plan a little me-time into a holiday with friends or as a couple.
  • Define how contactable you are. Are you one of the people who can’t leave their job in the office? Reachable practically any-where, at any time, via your smartphone and always available? This can be a blessing during your normal working day, but quickly becomes a curse when you’re on holiday. Despite not being there physically, you are virtually still at work on your smartphone. You don’t need to be an expert to know that this means anything but rest. You should clearly define and communi-cate your availability while you are away, so you can relax properly on your holidays. If you cannot fully distance yourself from work, you should at least not be permanently available while on holiday. Instead, define a window in which you can be contacted, check your emails and answer calls. Discipline is required to make sure that the remaining holiday time is pure relaxation.
  • Do some sport on the last day at work before your holiday. Sport and physical activity are good for stress relief. You should try doing a little sport or exer-cise shortly before your holiday starts, to help you to successfully “wind down” from your work-ing routine more quickly and switch into holiday mode.
     

“Relax. Let the steering wheel go. Spin through the world. It is so beautiful.”
(Kurt Tucholsky)


On holiday:
  • Enjoy some fresh air. Spending time outdoors is demonstrably beneficial for our physical and mental health. Ac-cording to current research, there are some indications that spending as much time as possi-ble outside when on holiday is a good idea. Your mood will be boosted, you will be happier and feel healthier. In addition, time spent outdoors also benefits your social relationships. The Japanese are so convinced of the healing and stress-reducing effect of being in the open air that they regularly practise “shinrin-yoku”, which means something like “forest bathing”.
  • Be physically active. You can find the information that active breaks are more restorative than passive ones under Rest & Relaxation. This is true of holidays too. Regular physical exercise or sport during your holiday will be good for your health and will increase the restorative effect of your holiday. The most important thing here is that you enjoy the activity. .
  • Leave thoughts of work at home. the day or away on holiday. Here it’s worth specifying: a good, creative and enjoyable occu-pation will not negatively affect relaxation. Are you completely absorbed in your work, and overflowing with new ideas and plans? Does working make you feel good? Do you not expe-rience the thoughts about work in your free time as negative? As long as you feel good and thinking about your projects spurs you on positively, you can jot down your new ideas in a notebook on your deckchair. By contrast, if you are under great pressure to perform and suf-fer from fear of failing at work, you should try to switch off when on holiday. Sports and other holiday and leisure activities will help. If, however, you cannot stop thinking about work, then it is recommended that you do the same thing as for constant contactability – limit thinking about work to a clearly defined time in the day. Additionally, writing a diary can be liberating.
  • Getting enough sleep. There is no reason why you shouldn’t party through the night when on holiday, or stay in bed until lunchtime when the weather is bad. What is important is that this remains the exception, not the rule. When on holiday, try not to vary too much from your usual sleep times. If your in-ternal clock gets too much out of sync, this can spoil your mood and negatively impact your performance and health over the long term. What’s more, re-entry into your daily routine after the holiday will be easier this way than if you party through every night and sleep during the day.
  • Ensure your holiday has a worthy end. According to American studies, your holiday memories will determine the high and low points of your trip, as will the last day of your holiday. Of these, you have the most active influence on the last holiday day. As packing your suitcase and other disagreeable activities that need to be done before leaving are not things that you will enjoy remembering, it is recommended that you do them on the penultimate day of your holiday, so you can still enjoy the last day in full. This day will ultimately determine how you remember your holiday.
After your holiday:
  • Give yourself time to arrive at home. Many people want to savour their holiday right down to the last minute, so plan the return journey for the very last day. Although this is entirely understandable, it can actually negative-ly affect your wellbeing and re-entry into your working life. It is advisable to return home at least one or two days before the end of your holiday. When you have jetlag to contend with, it makes sense to take a few days to get settled back at home, before you go back to work.
  • For your first week back, start on Wednesday. According to some experts, people who return to work midweek after their holiday benefit longer from it than those who return on Monday. The risk of your motivation dropping back to zero in the first working week is apparently significantly smaller when you start back on the Wednesday or Thursday after your holiday than at the beginning of the week.
  • Do not set any important deadlines or appointments in your first week back at work. When you go back to work to discover your calendar is full of deadlines, this can quickly result in getting stuck knee-deep in stress on the first day after your holiday. Nobody wants such a situation. So that it does not happen, plan any deadlines or appointments for the second week back at work after your holiday. This way you can arrive back calm and relaxed, work through the queries that have arisen in your absence and get an overview during the first week. This will be beneficial for your wellbeing and your motivation.
  • Avoid overtime in your first week back at work. Overtime in the first week back at work after your holiday is connected to planning deadlines. Different studies have shown that working overtime after coming home speeds up the disap-pearance of the positive holiday boost, such as positive emotions and general wellbeing, while relaxing in the evenings will slow it down.
     

“Relaxation means being able to actively engage with something else.”
(Frank Berzbach)


Is a long holiday more restful than a short trip?

From the perspective of recreational psychology, we can say that regular short trips are on the whole better than one single holiday per year. Depending on your destination, a long weekend may of course not be enough. However, it makes sense not to use all your annual leave for one big holiday per year. Studies show that you reach peak relaxation after one week of time off. Contrary to what most people believe, it cannot be said that the longer the holiday, the more rested the individual. Surveys show that the mood of holidaymakers lifts primarily in the first week, while the second and third weeks barely benefit the mood at all. What’s more, longer holidays do not necessarily have a longer-lasting restorative effect than short ones. Regardless of holiday length, you remain rested for approximately a week after your holiday. Consequently, it makes more sense to take a few days’ holiday several times a year and thus benefit more regularly from the restorative effect of a break.

Would you like to know more about this? Then we can recommend this programme on Radio SRF 2 Kultur. Context “Holidays – what a break from work is meant to do”.

 

References:
Blasche, G. (2008). War Ihr Urlaub erholsam? Ergebnisse und Anwendungen der Erholungsforschung. Themenschwerpunkt Gesundheits- und Verkehrspsychologie. Psychologie in Österreich, 3 & 4.
Blasche-Strauss, G., Reithofer, B., Schobersberg, W., Ekmekcioglu, C. & Marktl, W. (2005). Effect of vaca-tion on health: Moderating factors of vacation outcome. Journal Travel Medicine, 12, 94-101.
Bartman, G. N., Anderson, C. B., Berman, M. G., Cochran, B., de Vries, S. et al. (2019). Nature and mental health: An ecoystem service perspective. Science Advances, 5.
De Bloom, J. (2013). Spass und Kontrolle: Das Geheimnis erholsamer Ferien. Dossier Ferienpsychologie. Psychoscope.
De Bloom, J., Geurts, S. A. E. & Komper, M. A. J. (2013). Vacation (after-) effects on employee health and well-being, and the role of vacation activities, experiences and sleep. Journal Happiness Studies, 14, 613-633.
Gradwohl, N. (2017). Über die Kunst, den Urlaub zu gestalten. SRF-Beitrag.
Klöckner, L. (2020). Urlaub: Was die Psyche zum Erholen braucht. Beitrag auf Omeda.de.
Lohmann-Haislah, A. & Wendsche, A. (2016). Die Arbeit noch im Kopf – Eine Metaanalyse zu Einflussfaktoren und Folgen des mentalen Abschaltens von der Arbeit. Berlin: Bundesanstalt für Arbeitsschutz und Arbeitsmedizin.
May, C. J., Ostafin, B. D. & Shnippe, E. (2019). The relative impact of 15-minutes of meditation compared to a day of vacation in daily life: An exploratory analysis. The Journal of Positive Psychology.
Schlemmer, P., Blank, C. & Schnitzer, M. (2019). Does physical activity during alpine vacations increase tourists’ well-being? International Journal of envirionmental research and public health, 16, 1707.
Strauss-Blasche, G., Reithofer, B., Schobersberger, W., Ekmekcioglu, C & Marktl, W. (2005). Effect of vacation on health: Moderating factors of vacation outcome. Journal Travel Medicine, 12, 94-101.

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