How to Actually Put Your Life on Pause and Enjoy a Break
I’ve nearly always found holidays to be stressful. Between buying presents on a limited budget, worrying about coursework deadlines, and splitting my time between parents, I’ve often felt more stress than excitement for Christmas.
Moreover, according to NBC News, 45% of Americans would rather skip the holidays altogether to avoid the stress that comes with them. It begs the question, then:
Can a break be relaxing?
You Usually Hit the Fast Forward Button Instead
Whether it be exams or job applications, I’ve nearly always had an overarching worry loom over me in years past. However, lockdowns slowed 2020 to a halt, and I was determined to enjoy my break from endless days of writing.
It felt strange not to have my next project on my mind or plan my day every night. That’s because we are forward-looking people. While that is one of the habits Stephen Covey outlines in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, it’s not ideal for embracing relaxation time.
Looking too far forward can prevent our ability to enjoy the present.
A poll by the American Psychological Association found that lack of time and money is the cause of holiday stress for 69% of people. You may face problems such as family drama, the pressure of travel, and S.A.D (seasonal affective disorder) below the surface.
Many of these issues stem from our inability to double down on the little things that make breaks relaxing. Start with these tips.
Work On Indulging Yourself
I hate spending money. I always feel guilty after and try rationalizing it. But, while the idea of a break is supposed to be a serene, cocktail-sipping bliss, it’s usually more expensive than you first think.
Just last week, I decided to buy Spider-Man: Miles Morales on PlayStation 4. It cost £50, but I managed to lose myself in the game for hours on end. My stresses began to melt away. Whereas I would worry about the future and ignore the present in the past, I instead spent hours knocking all of New York’s criminals into oblivion.
The problem is, I spent a week dithering over whether to buy it. I felt it might be a waste. To combat this, CEO of financial education startup Invibed, Dani Pascarella, suggests you “limit impulse purchases by having a plan for each dollar in your paycheck.”
By having a financial plan, Pascarella suggests you can have a lot more fun with your money. She says:
“Instead of thinking, ‘I should be doing something more responsible with this money,’ you’ll start to think, ‘All of my bills and goals are covered so now it’s time to treat myself for working hard because I earned it.’”
I used the “fun money” for the Spider-Man game, and I’m having a whole lot of fun playing it.
Helpful tip: Regard indulging yourself as important as every other bill in your life. You need to take a proper break occasionally.
Don’t Work for the Sake of It
During Christmas of 2019, I vowed to myself: don’t look for jobs over the holidays. Naturally, I broke it.
Even though it wasn’t much, I briefly looked at Linkedin. I didn’t find anything new; I merely resurfaced old feelings of disappointment. Now, I have more control over my work, so I made the firm decision to put it on hold for a few weeks.
According to the US Travel Association, two out of three Americans believe a vacation improves creativity. As my two-week break allowed me to fill my brain with vast quantities of ideas, I can understand that.
However, Forbes suggests that working on holiday has its benefits. You are taking time out of your break to help others, potentially making you feel proud of your work.
Moreover, the authors of Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life, Albert Liebermann and Hector Garcia, found that one of the reasons Okinawans live for so long is they never retire. A love for what they do keeps them going past 100 years old.
They don’t work for the sake of it.
Draining your energy with a task you hate is only going to sour your mind and ruin your break. If you’re unsure, take some time off and gain a new perspective. Ask yourself if you miss it.
Helpful tip: If you’re going to work on a break, do it because you want to, not because you have to. Once you’re unavailable, don’t feel like you owe your time to anyone.
Allow Yourself to Revel in Anticipation
Preparing for a holiday is a mixed bag of emotions. Some studies have found planning and the beginning of a break can lead to high blood pressure, low sleep quality, and a bad mood. However, according to a study published in Applied Research in Quality of Life, the anticipation stage can make you happier than the holiday itself.
I can certainly attest to that.
One year my family and I went to France for two weeks. I was so excited to relax in the sun and enjoy my school holiday. In the end, the car broke down (costing £2000 to fix), the hotel sucked, and I got a severe ear infection for the last week.
The build-up was better than the holiday. Why should that period be wasted?
Think of the anticipation as a prequel to the main event. Ride high on the excitement. If the event sucks, then at least you still benefited from one aspect of it.
Helpful tip: Make planning easier and do it early — preferably with help. My friends and I didn’t plan our trip to Amsterdam and while it was fun, there was a lot we missed out on due to sheer laziness.
Set Yourself an Allotted Break Period
When the UK entered a lockdown on 23rd March 2020, the uncertainty was crippling. We had no idea when it would end (my girlfriend and I thought we could go to Berlin in September!).
Not knowing when something will end means you can’t prepare for the next stage in your life. After a break, it can be challenging to hit the ground running. Studies have found that students suffer from “Summer Learning Loss” — they struggle in lessons after the long summer breaks due to a lack of practice.
For instance, I knew I would have two weeks off from writing, which allowed me not to feel guilty. But, towards the end, I started shifting my mind to the tasks at hand.
You can do the same by pre-planning your return to work with something new and exciting. It doesn’t need to be a radical change — it probably shouldn’t.
Returning to anything after an extended period away is bound to be difficult. Give yourself a headstart by outlining a new project to work on, headline to write, or resolution to meet.
Helpful tip: Humans like a bit of order in their lives. If you’re like me, restart on a Monday. It’s not much but will help to reframe your mind back into a work mindset.
A break is whatever you want it to be. You could be relaxing in bed for the weekend or skiing down the Alps — it’s up to you. You might find you miss your life a lot, or feel like you need a change. A break helps you gain a new perspective.
It all starts when you allow yourself to hit the pause button. That sigh as you flop onto the sofa or the wave of heat that smacks you as you step off the plane.
Drink the excitement in and most importantly, relax.
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