Monday Musings…Dialogue with the Door: How Do You Recharge Your Battery?

“I NEED a Vacation!”

Reading Week. Christmas Break. Summer Holidays. These are the times set aside on our calendars to enjoy some R & R before getting back to the responsibilities of the adult world. It sounds like an amazing prescription for health and wellness, but the problem is, it’s really hard to unplug, unwind, and not think about what circumstances or expectations are looming.

Let’s think about unplugging. In our technology-driven world, we are connected 24/7. People are instantly accessible. Responses must be instant, or at the very least within 24 hours, and so the pressure to be constantly available is paramount in today’s culture – even while on vacation. But the other problem with unplugging, is that even if you are disciplined enough to turn your cell phone off, not check email, or access any Internet options, when you return from vacation and open your various inboxes…there is an avalanche of requests. Being able to leave a message at any time has created a ton of issues. No longer can you ease back into your daily routine; you are forced to hit the ground running, prioritize the response chain, hoping that you have not neglected the most important item that needs your attention. Take notice next time around the office or classroom – people may look tanned and rested from their vacation at 8:00 a.m. but check-in with them around 10 a.m. and that same glow seems to be fading into the aura of feeling overwhelmed.

True rest and relaxation, therefore, takes more than unplugging; so we place some hope in our ability to unwind. All the pent up energy and physical stamina needed to keep going has probably depleted your resources of strength, and so body rest and sleep are pretty important. It’s something the people who wrote on the door craved. It’s amazing that when we know expectations and pressures are less (like having to go to class or to the workplace), sleep can come a little easier and maybe a little longer. Sleep is the true restoration master that can help us cope with the challenges we face, giving us a clearer mind to process and manage our lives. But tell that to someone who is aging, or better yet, tell that to a parent of young children! For the majority of people as they age, it unfortunately gets harder to sleep in as the circadian rhythm gets finely tuned to the droning routine of early to bed, early to rise. A parent of young children has no ability to sleep in, and the word ‘vacation’ might conjure up images of packing all the essentials of life into 3 humongous duffle bags, along with 2 coolers, a bin of toys and games, as the growing family piles into the vehicle for the 5 hour trip to a National Park where at least one person will not have a window seat, and another will need a washroom break when you are 50 km from a restroom. Unwinding… um… I’m not so sure. The reality about vacations and unwinding is that they are dictated by a schedule often created by someone else, and by the false belief that it truly is a break away from the pressures and stressors of life. The fact is, the time that vacation is scheduled may be too late - you have worked too hard for too long and are now at the point of exhaustion – so two weeks or two months earlier may have been more helpful. Or it may come too early – because it was pre-arranged by your workforce, school calendar or personal responsibilities- and you know you can’t unwind because too many things will need your attention when you return. Some people drive back from their vacation more wound up then rested, and that sleep they wanted to catch up on, well it flew right out the tent window.

And that brings me to the third point – vacations are supposed to involve not thinking about deadlines, or essays, or the household jobs you’ve been meaning to get to for months. But the reality is, it’s pretty hard to shut the brain off. We know there are those rare individuals who seem to be able to flip that switch and be in true vacation mode, but the majority of people really struggle with this. And so it begs us to say: “Why can’t I turn my brain off? I’m supposed to be on vacation!!”

Well, here are some things to consider:

  • We spend way too much time worrying about what other people think about us and this clogs the synaptic gaps between our brains cells. (Should I have said this or done that?)

  • We then ruminate, like a cow chewing her cud, thinking over and over about things and/or people that we have absolutely no control over

  • This sucks up the time (not to mention energy) that probably would have been better used working on the task that we are now behind on and will have to complete when we return from vacation, or that we sacrificed our sleep for so we could leave on vacation

So here’s the solution so you can pre-program your mind for the next vacation, but more importantly for today:

  • Realize that there will always be demands and expectations placed on us by others, whether that’s an infant, a friend, a classmate, or those we work with. There’s no avoiding it.

  • Do the best job you know how to meet the expectation and do it in the moment it is asked of you. Procrastination is the mother of frustration when you realize you should have attended to it earlier.

  • If you don’t know how to meet the expectation, ask for help. People wait way too long and worry too much about looking foolish. Ask anyway.

  • If you can’t meet the expectation, and you are not being paid to do it, say NO. Stop thinking about disappointing other people. This is likely something over and above what you know or can handle. It is far better, and actually provides relief, when you are honest and decline.

  • Setting priorities is very important. Rarely is there only one thing demanding our attention. Do the hard stuff first and then sail through the easy stuff. We usually do this in reverse and then the hard stuff keeps piling up to the point where we want to give up. The guilt felt in leaving it undone before vacation pulses through our brain cells and makes our head throb. These are often the things that linger and consume us on vacation.

  • Realize you are a limited person and can’t do everything, or be everything to everyone. You don’t have unlimited time and energy and yet there seems to be this need for so many to be indispensable – which is rooted in the origin of the issue with turning off the brain – worrying about what other people think.

We may not be able to schedule our vacation – it’s likely done for us. Our inboxes and voicemails will continue to be filled even though we have unplugged. And we may not be able to physically unwind because of biology or the reality of parenting. But in life there is one thing that we alone have the power to do – and that is to get control of our head space.

A true vacation then is not determined by date or destination, rather it’s being able to turn your brain off at the end of the day knowing you’ve done the best job you know how as a parent, friend, student or employee. You’ve got to learn to give YOURSELF a break! It’s the only way you will recharge your battery.

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© 2020 Connect the Thoughts: Charlene Mahon