By Alex Davis
I am afflicted by what I call Vacation Anxiety. Since I was a freshman in college, I’ve struggled mightily to simply sit back, relax, and enjoy my breaks from work and school. It is almost as though the sudden expanse of unstructured days gives me decision fatigue: I feel pressure to use my off-time “well” (whatever that means) and as a result, I inevitably end up either wasting time or throwing myself into a frenzy of activity to try to fill the blank space.
I thought I had something wrong with me until I spoke with friends who feel the same way. It is not uncommon for those of us accustomed to a go-go-go daily routine to experience a strange inertia when we suddenly hit the brakes, leaving us dizzy and disoriented. I felt validated in knowing I was not alone, but at the same time, I wanted this to change. Breaks are absolutely essential to both our health and our professional success, and I finally decided I wanted to use mine more constructively.
If you are fortunate enough to have a long holiday break this year, here are a few ways to make the most of your time.
1. Categorize and prioritize. If there is a lot that you hope to accomplish, break your to-do list into three categories of items: The Productive (working, errands, chores), The Productive-But-Still-Fun (house projects, a creative side project), and Just-Plain-Good-for-the-Soul (spending time with family and friends, taking walks, going window shopping, reading, etc.). This might sound pedantic, but I’ve found it to be an incredibly useful way to prioritize and triage tasks in order to maximize the time you spend on “fun” things. First of all, having a general to-do list as long as your arm will probably stress you out more than energize you, and if you’re like me, you might end up doing none of it. But if you break your tasks down, you know exactly what NEEDS to be done, what you would LIKE to get done, and what you want to reward yourself with once you’ve accomplished certain tasks. Second, doing this can allow you to frontload your most undesirable to-dos. If you have to do work, try to do it at the beginning of your break instead of saving it for the end. Don’t let your miscellaneous undesirable to-dos snowball into something bigger and uglier. You don’t want them waiting for you once you get to the other side of New Year’s.
2. Plan out the beginning and the end of your days. For someone who crams my days full of activity from beginning to end, it can feel strange to have a wide open week with nothing planned. My default is to immediately devise an itinerary, which doesn’t really work when everyone else is in holiday break mode and just wants to take it easy. At the same time, it is scary how quickly entire days can pass, leaving you wondering where the heck all the time went. One tactic I’ve used to bring some intentionality to my days off is to plan the beginning and the end of each day. Even if my “plan” is to simply sit in front of the Christmas tree and read, I still feel like I’ve given my day some structure. This also allows me to leave my days largely open for any fun, spontaneous family activities, last minute day trips, or impromptu coffee dates with friends who swing through town.
3. Take time to reflect. Having all this time off is a perfect opportunity to think about what you’ve accomplished personally and professionally in the past year, as well as to set goals for the New Year. Thinking about starting a career transition? Launching a business? Relocating? Training for a marathon? Saving up for a massive trip? Try carving out some time to reflect deeply on your goals and desires and outline action steps you can take to get there. This will help you welcome the New Year enthusiastically and hit the ground running on January 1st.
4. Go easy on the movies and TV. Nothing can make a wide open day sail by like spending most of it planted in front of the TV. It is fun to gather around the tree with family and friends and watch the Polar Express for the 17th time, but be mindful of the ways screen time can eat up your days. Try saving movies for evenings only and use your days to go for a hike, hang out with family and friends, tackle fun projects, go shopping, or do something good for your body, soul, and mind.
5. Get outside. Studies show time and again that spending time outside offers numerous physical and mental health benefits, fights depression and anxiety, and fosters creative thinking. There is truly no better time to enjoy some of the incredible benefits of the great outdoors than the end of one year and the start of another. Try getting some friends and family to join you on a walk around the neighborhood, or just take a solo hike at a local park (but please be safe!).
6. Devise a plan of action for your first week back. After the holiday high, the initial weeks back at work can feel like a real bummer. Try coming up with some goals for that first week in terms of what you want to accomplish at work, when you want to exercise, and what goals you want to start working toward. Also, try planning a date night or a girls’ night with some friends to try to shake off any post-holidays blues.
How are you spending your break? Are you traveling or staying at home? Share your fun stories in the comments or on Instagram!
Featured Image courtesy of @wonderfelle Media.