This article was written by Sarah Hinstorff, former chair of the Youth Advisory Board.
Manage Stress and Relax with an Instant Vacation
Sometimes taking an intentional “time-out” and stepping back from everyday life stressors, provides a chance to calm down, relax, and gain perspective. A great strategy for managing stress is to take an “instant vacation” — by temporarily blocking the mind from thinking about the cause of the stress. “Instant vacations” allow the mind to recharge. While “away,” the mind can mull over solutions that have been hard to process when stressed. The “instant vacation” strategy is about getting away from problems in a thoughtful, planned way.
Take Them Anywhere
For this strategy to work, the “vacations” have to be easily accessible. While a real vacation allows for an escape from worries, it may also require time, money and the need to fulfill obligations before leaving. Instant vacations, on the other hand, allow you to stay right where you are but still relax and take a mental break.
Avoid Intrusive Thoughts
Thinking too much can be a source of stress. Sometimes it can be helpful to choose to (temporarily) avoid thoughts. To establish real opportunities to relax and recharge, create the time and space to escape.
One key to an effective instant vacation is to refocus and busy the mind — leaving no room for intrusive thoughts that create stress. This doesn’t mean to relax and just stop thinking about the problem. That’s unrealistic and easier said than done. The harder the brain works to not think about something … the more likely it is to think about it! It’s like saying, “Don’t look at the giant green man in the corner!” There’s no way not to look after hearing that. It’s a natural response. Instead, the goal is to replace those thoughts with something that feels better and that distracts the mind.
Reading is powerful because it requires using all of the senses. It requires imagining the sounds, sights, and aromas that are expressed through words. The brain experiences suspense and emotions that the characters encounter. It works so hard, there is little room for anything else. Reading can be done anywhere through books, tablets, magazines, newspapers and more. Be sure to choose something that you actually enjoy reading and get lost in the story.
The practice of mindfulness means tuning into the present moment through the power of breath. It requires not dwelling on the past or anticipating the future. Attention to the present allows the body to exist, comfortably, without allowing thoughts to swirl. Because it takes so much focus to do that, there is little room for intrusive thoughts. Once learned, it only requires an open mind and yourself. To find out more, check out Dr. Dzung Vo’s tutorial.
Close your eyes and imagine yourself somewhere else. For visualization to offer a real escape, it has to fill the senses. Come up with a memory filled with different sensations. It should be a memorable experience that can be pulled out whenever needed. But it doesn’t have to be an unusual place. It could be a place of deep warmth and security, such as a grandmother’s kitchen. Or it could be your favorite place to visit, like the beach, the mountains, or a special city. Close your eyes, imagine the sights, sounds, smells, and feelings. Be still, and think of nothing else.
Hobbies provide a way to escape for a little while. Do little things you enjoy (but that don’t necessarily have a purpose). Hobbies range from cooking to collecting to gaming. They leave you recharged and satisfied for the rest of the day.
Whether it’s art, music, dance, or sculpture, escape into the process of creation. Take pride and satisfaction in what you’ve produced.
Nature offers a way to feel connected to something larger. Whether it is getting lost looking at cloud formations, listening to the sounds of birds, or taking in the amazing variety of plant life … it is all there if you pay attention. There is a reason the expression, “Stop and smell the roses,” exists. If you take time to appreciate nature, you’ll be happier. Put down the phones and pay attention to the world around you.
Music can reset emotions. It can be inspiring and invigorating. Just be sure to select relaxing music. Because music also has the power to stir up bittersweet or painful feelings.
Showers, Baths and Meditative Breathing
There’s something about water. Whether it’s flowing over you or you are floating within it, it creates a space to relax and decompress. Baths provide a perfect space to learn meditative breathing. As you take deep breaths, your lungs fill, and your body gently rises and falls in the water. If you submerge your ears underwater (keeping the nose above!), you can hear your rhythmic breathing. If you want proof that you are relaxing, take your pulse and notice it slowing as you continue deep, slow breathing.
Gaming and Video Games
Gaming requires focused attention. It allows you to interact with people in a different location. Gaming can be both fun and beneficial when done in moderation.
Don’t forget the value of listening to others’ thoughts and feelings as a break from your own. Whether it’s a trusted friend, parent, or sibling, talking to someone about the things you hold close to your heart can make you feel much better.
Consider volunteering or giving back. Helping others can fill you with a sense of joy, hope, and fulfillment. It also helps you connect with the community.
Laughter decreases our stress hormones. It does so by helping natural body chemicals, called endorphins, release within our body. Endorphins make us feel good!
Create Your Own Instant Vacation
This list is not nearly complete. Just because something isn’t listed here doesn’t mean it doesn’t belong. You can come up with your own instant vacations. There are plenty of opportunities to temporarily disengage from your thoughts and feelings. Some may take more work than others. Find what works for you. With a little effort, you’ll develop healthy strategies for escaping at a moment’s notice.
Image by: Samantha Lee/Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia