A question raised by a client: “As soon as I get some days off of work, I Iike to jet off somewhere for a vacation. Is there any better form of self-care?”
Travel can be an excellent option for self-care. Whether it includes total rest or exploring new places, meeting new people, or learning new skills, you can support your mental, physical, spiritual, and social needs going somewhere outside of the places you ordinarily see. A travel vacation is a gift to yourself. There are also plenty of other ways to meet self-care needs and to gift yourself. Other options are often less expensive than travel and can be as powerful of an experience. Before you catch that plane or train or jump in that car, here are some excellent ways to care for yourself when you have several days that are unscheduled.
Many of us have some changes we would like to make in our daily habits, and a few free days are a good time to practice incorporating the new habit or eliminating the old habit. When you see the new habit in action, you can determine how practical it really is going to be in your usual, busy schedule. You can also see how you feel without enacting the old habit. You can identify barriers and scheme for how to circumvent those barriers. Bringing a healthy lunch to work every day might be a challenge if you get home late at night and don’t have the energy or desire to prepare it before bed or in the morning. These days off are a chance to explore some healthy soup recipes or even research some healthy-lunch hacks the food bloggers of the world can offer.
Different from the conceptual making of a resolution to do something, creating a habit is done through nuts-and-bolts actions. Do you want to meditate for 15 minutes every day upon waking? Some down time is an opportunity to see what that’s like. Of course, creating a habit is a multi-layered, longer-term endeavor. First, conventional wisdom says that it takes about 2 months to establish a new habit. So, after your few days of playing with the new habit outside of your usual routine, keeping it up during the busy periods will be a test. It is very helpful to focus on the benefits of the new habit in that critical moment, or “choice point” at which you do the action… or you don’t.
For example, if you are laying in bed and deciding to get up to go sit on a meditation cushion, you may rather sleep for another 20 minutes instead. At that critical moment, it’s important to recall how serene you felt for the rest of the day yesterday when you gave yourself the gift of getting on the cushion. In fact, viewing the new habit as an indulgent treat you give yourself makes the “activation energy” of the behavior a lot easier to mount. You are really loving yourself when you set aside time for meditation, feed yourself food that nourishes you at work, coach yourself through a vigorous workout that will keep your cells thriving. Feeling cared-for is a lot more motivating than feeling cattle-prodded. The choice in perspective is yours.
Sometimes there are some deeper psychological barriers to adopting a positive new habit / eliminating an old habit. This course by Kelly McGonigal is an excellent choice if you want to address those elements of change during your time off. I recommend it.
Sometimes we have some unresolved experiences or feelings that keep calling for our attention, but it never feels like the right time to really look into them and do the work of “processing” the feelings or experience. A few free days are a great time to safely look at difficult situations and allow the process of resolution to unfold. This can be as simple as sitting down with a journal and writing out our thoughts and feelings about the experience, then going on a bike ride.
Scheduling a retreat at a local church or meditation center is a way to delineate the time during which you are going to “sit with” the unresolved experience. These venues also offer teachers / spiritual leaders who can offer support if your processing brings up some feelings you aren’t prepared to manage.
You can also bookend your few days of delving into your heart and psyche with appointments with your personal psychotherapist. He or she may also have suggestions for exercises you can do during your time to welcome movement and healing in your journey through the difficult situation. A therapist can also help you interpret what you experience, to integrate what you learn into your self-concept and your understanding of your life until now.
A few free days are an excellent chance to reach out to loved ones near and far. In our everyday lives, it’s easy to deal with what’s directly in front of us and mostly forget our web of support- all our friends and family! With some free days, you can make plans to visit some of your loved ones, either locally or even a short flight away.
You can also plan your days of connecting as a “stay-cation” at home: days of relaxation and other self-care, punctuated by writing letters to distant loved ones and a few hours on the phone. A whole day free makes it easier to ring up the people who cross your mind often, but with whom time-zone differences tend to prevent contact. Maintaining the social fabric of your life is an act of self-care and loved-one care, at the same time. Connecting with others is a basic need we all have to feel secure and seen. Offering connection to others helps those in our lives who may not be as skilled at reaching out to receive those benefits, as well.
Enjoy your downtime!
Important skills you are strengthening:
Share Your Experience
How do you use your time off for self-care? Please share about it in the “comments” section. The internet is a powerful resource for learning from others- make your experience count!