25 Ways to Take a Vacation: The importance of taking breaks.

So many of us feel like we need a break but do not take one. You could go all out and take the full on beach or mountain vacation or you could stay home and have a stay-cation. It doesn’t matter as long as you are taking a break.

In honor of my own spring break trip, this week we are going to look at the need to take a break. Many people talk about how much they need a break, yet many struggle to take one. In a culture that values output, taking a break can feel like laziness or missing out. 

There is a natural need to take a break. Sammonds, Mansfield, and Fray (2017) found that drivers in a simulated experiment showed increasing discomfort as drive time increased and decreased discomfort following the break. A break serves to help us reset our attention and allow us to reconnect with ourselves. By taking advantage of the break we are more energized, productive, and happy in our work (Steinborn & Huestegge, 2016). 

Now lets talk about taking a longer break, a vacation (and vacation workouts). So many people never take all their vacation time each year. This is detrimental to our health. In my research I studied the impact of chronic psychological stress states on the physical body. There is a cascading effect of the endocrine  system when one is under too much stress for too long. During periods of chronic stress the body pumps out a number of hormones and neurotransmitters. When these chemicals are not metabolized in the system they wreck havoc on physical structures. The impact is things like; chronic pain, joint pain, cardiovascular issues, difficulty sleeping, concentration troubles, sexual problems, obesity, and decrease in skin/hair, nail health to name a few. When we do not get a break to re-set and recharge our physical system our health suffers. 

A vacation does not have to be lengthy or costly. You can practice “vacationing” on a regular basis to help yourself reset your system. You can do the traditional holiday and plan a  get away for a few weeks or a month, or you can take 5 minutes and “go away” in your office. The benefits of each are different, however both are helpful.

Here are 25 ideas to get you started taking your next break. 

The Traditional Ideas: 

  1. The beach, mountains, forest, or desert
  2. Road trip for distance and enjoy the small towns along the way
  3. National or state park tour
  4. Bike touring
  5. Backpacking & Hiking
  6. All inclusive resorts
  7. Explore an exotic locale like a local 
  8. Camping
  9. Hut / cabin trips
  10. Sailing / boating 

Closer to Home:

  1. Get a screensaver that helps you visualize yourself on a vacation
  2. Find an app that has guided meditations about locations you would like to visit
  3. Home spa stay – pick a few treatments you can do at home and plan a relaxing few days in the comfort of your own home
  4. Enjoy your home town like a visitor
  5. Sit and enjoy the outdoors
  6. Explore a new section of town / class / landmark / shop you’ve never been too. Take your time and enjoy the adventure of finding something new
  7. Enjoy a local sporting event – even if thats on TV at the new locale from #6
  8. Take in a theater production, symphony, or concert close to home
  9. Enjoy a really nice dinner – either prepared at home with friends or out on the town
  10. Road trip to the nearest cool town you want to explore

The Hard Part: No matter where your vacation takes you (far from home or just lying down for a unusual nap at home) the trick to taking a break is to really shift your mind away from all the things you have to do, all the chores that have not been completed, and all obligations you have for yourself. Here are some ways to help yourself shift (and stay shifted) away from all those mental actions.

  1. Write a list of all the things you have to do and give them a date of completion or timeline so you can rest knowing you have already planned for those tasks. You may need to break it into smaller tasks to be effective.
  2. Recognize that you cannot complete everything before you rest. There will always be more to do. Honor the struggle of chores and be present to the moment you are in, not the one with everything complete and prefect. 
  3. Use headphones to help yourself control stimulation and outside noise while you meditate or rest. It can help you learn to tune out things you do not need to focus on for the moment. 
  4. Learn to follow your breath. The breath is the easiest way into your nervous system. This is because the breath connects you to your heart rate, heart rate signals the brain – rest or run. As you pay attention to your breath, allow yourself to sink into the support you are using. This allows your body to rest as well as your mind. 
  5. Focus on the people you are with, the experiences you are having, and the things you are seeing. As you commit to be present to what you are really doing (not your deadlines and to lists, heaping laundry pile, or the toilet that needs scrubbing), you learn how to shift your attention in the moment, moment by moment, to your experience. This experience becomes embodied and you become more grounded. This translates to more effectiveness in your everyday life and an ability to shift more easily toward resting more often. 

Today give yourself the gift of “getting away” – even if only for 5 minutes. Take a break and be present. 

References: 

Steinborn, M. B., & Huestegge, L. (2016). A walk down the lane gives wings to your brain. restorative benefits of rest breaks on cognition and self‐control. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 30(5), 795-805. doi:http://dx.doi.org.tcsedsystem.idm.oclc.org/10.1002/acp.3255

Sammonds, G.M., Mansfield, N.J., and Fray, M. (2017). Improving long term driving comfort by taking breaks: How break activity affects effectiveness. Applied Ergonomics, 65, 81-89. 

Stand Tall on the Changes You are Making

Are working hard to make life changes only to feel defeated by those around you or yourself? It may be time to look beneath the surface of the change process and find the deeper meaning in the struggle.

For each obstacle from Thursday’s change plan worksheet consider 2-3 options for coping with each on the way to your goal.

Maybe it is changing location, moving away from particular people at a party, going a new way to work, having dinner at a different time, saying a particular phrase, etc. There are many ways to address and deal with your challenges – and they will come up. So plan to meet them with grace and confidence.  

The Spirituality of Change

This brings an aspect of living your essence and spirituality. As you work on changing, you must face yourself – sometimes this is the hardest person to face. You must take an honest look at who you are and who you want to be. Then do the difficult work of change. Through this process we often find parts of ourselves we do not like, want around, or understand. It is in facing these aspects of our being that we become a better version of ourselves. If you find yourself lost in the struggle, it may be worth finding a support system for your change process – a group, class, or therapist to help you navigate the steps and set you up for the best possible results.

Finding your voice

Sometimes explaining your desire to change to others is hard. Sometimes they work against you – like crabs in a bucket, pulling you back into old patterns and behaviors. Remember, you do not have to explain your changes to anyone else. You do not have to justify your new behaviors or work to get the to understand your reasons, purpose, or dreams. Your change is all about you and you can chose who to share it with and when.

A few simple statements go a long way, like:

  • I’m the DD tonight
  • I am working on a new fitness plan
  • I am trying a new meal plan out
  • I am working on shifting my sleeping pattern
  • I’ve been reading about _____, and I want to try some of the suggestions
  • I have a friend who did ____, I am hoping to have similar results
  • I noticed I feel better when I do _____

You can create all sorts of simple statements that give enough information but do not require you explain or rationalize your new behaviors. Just make sure you are creating statements you can back up if they ask later – i.e. if you are telling people you are working on training for a race, you might want to make sure you are planning to run a race. When people ask how’s the racing going you don’t want to be “aaaaaahhhh …” and stumble trying to make something up on the spot.

In the end, relax into the change process, enjoy the ride, find yourself, and become a better version of you. It is here you find your spirit and strengthen your soul.

Make Life More Interesting

Want to feel more engaged in your life? Finding your personal flow by examining your patterns and being open to change.

As we move through change it can be helpful to track and notice patterns. In the tracking we find how we build our personal flow. What works, what does not. From here we can create ways to build more flow into our daily routines. Check out this post for help tracking your patterns and organizing your life changes.

This awareness lends itself to offering you more opportunities to bring flow into your life, thus creating a positive cycle to make your life more engaging and interesting to you.

And wallah … you begin living a life in flow more often than not. 

Did You Get Lucky Last Night? 3 ways to make sure you continue to have a healthy sex life.

In my office I counsel many people on the topic of sex. So many of us are unsatisfied with our sex lives and are looking for ways to talk about and communicate our desires, wants, needs effectively and compassionately. Sex is not a dirty word or activity … it is a necessary biological function. Here’s why we need it.

Is it really about getting lucky? Or is a good sex life about showing up with intent. Sticking to the theme this week and honoring this lucky day of St. Patrick’s Day … let’s talk about sex.

I talk a lot about sex. So many people are trying to figure out their sex lives and so many people have questions about what they can do to increase their sexual health. So many are embarrassed, shamed, and scared of speaking directly about and to their sexuality.

I have spent more time in the last 10 years explaining condom use and STDs to people over 60 than I have to my teenage clients or my own kids, and I have spent so much time talking to people about acceptance of their sexual desires. This is because so many were in committed relationships prior to the age of AIDS, open conversations about sexuality, STDs, and wide spread exposure to different sexual preferences.

I also spend a fair amount of time with people who are unhappy in their committed intimate relationship regardless of age. They feel unsatisfied and unable to explain why or ask for what they really want to be different – now that their relationship(s) have evolved. As a result of societal learning they struggle to know just what they can ask for and “what’s ok”. In reality, you can ask for whatever you want and it is all ok as long as you are not hurting someone else. Below are 3 ways you can discuss sex to create the best sex ever. BECAUSE good communication about sex makes it much, much, much better – as a result, talking about your sex life makes it soar.

1) Make Sure You Talk About It

I see so many in my office who do not know how to talk about sex. Our culture leans toward sex being shameful or dirty while exposing everything on reality TV. Reality TV isn’t the bad guy, they just figured out how to give us what we really want, while allowing us to blame them for the demise of humanity. They do not care about your judgment, they just want your peeping Toms, and boy do we give them up easily. We are so captivated by others doing things we are shamed to admit we are curious about, we watch to the tunes of billions of dollars. Maybe it is time to stop giving the TV folks our money and have an honest conversation about how we feel about our own sexuality.

For some they cannot talk openly about sex, but for others we cannot talk openly, honestly, or authentically about sexual preferences but we sure can get raunchy. We might be really good at saying and commenting on the “nasty” but avoid the real intimate and honest conversation about it. It is ok to talk dirty, get raunchy, and make jokes as long as it is not at the expense of another AND you can be open about the intimacy and vulnerability of your own experience.

Having an open honest conversation about sex is one way to combat sexual assault and harassment, stop homosexual discrimination, and decrease teen pregnancy. However, for many of us this would mean, we would have to be vulnerable. We would have to open up about what sex really means to us, how it helps us connect, and the pain of being rejected if that intimacy is not returned. It can be difficult to talk about, and for some easier to just make jokes or put sex down as something ugly and unwanted rather than face the reality that sex is something we all need until the day we die.

Get rid of the shame by talking about your experiences, preferences, and curiosities with a trusted person. Shame cannot survive the exposure. Shame builds and lives in a bubble of secrecy, silence, and judgment. By speaking about it, asking questions, and exploring your thoughts and ideas with a safe person shame goes away. If it is too much to talk about everything you are curious about, just start small and build up your ability to speak about more difficult topics slowly. If you do not have anyone in your inner circle who would be a non-judgmental person, find a therapist. Some specialize in sexuality and sex therapy and can help you identify your intimate goals.

I cannot stress enough how important honest, open communication about sex is for the health of your sexual relationship and making sure everybody has a happy ending.

2) Understand what sex is and what it isn’t

For centuries our culture has been inundated with “rules” about what sex is and is not. Many buy into these cultural definitions without digging deeper into why they came into existence in the first place. Much of the reason behind such rules has to do with blood lines, lots of death, money, and cultural assimilation. Very little has to do with love and personal preference.

As a result of this cultural learning we like to think we have willpower over sexual needs, and in many ways we do. In others we do not. There is a great amount of literature on sexuality and much of it points to how biologically driven our sexual need is. This is not to say we get free reign to use, abuse, or take sex from others, however it can help decrease shame we have around our curiosities and enjoyment of sexual exploration. Once you know what you want and what you like, it is much easier to communicate about it … and have I mentioned how important communicating about sex is to the health of your sexual relationships?

Sex does not equal love … and love does not equal sex. As noted above sex has a biological drive behind it so equating it with love is a losing battle. Sex is just a physical act. However, orgasm does release a shloo of hormones and neurotransmitters that help us feel connected, calm, and content. Orgasm is important in realigning the body for optimal health. Yet, many never get to experience this event, or at least experience it too little because of physical issues, sexual shaming, or being with partners who are not sensitive to each other’s needs.

As partners in a committed relationship it is important to honor the other’s timing. One of you may need more time to climax than the other, one may be more shy, one partner may be more or less aware of the physical anatomy and structures that can be used to bring climax on. Again, it is important to provide opportunities to discuss preferences, desires, and physicality of what brings pleasure and joy. These discussions result in much more gratifying sexual activities for all people involved.

Let go of “whose in charge”. I see so many couples who believe that one partner should be the driver of their sexual relationship. This is not the case. Much of this control has been given to males due to patriarchal societal values and this is a lot of pressure. Men are only half of the sexual relationship, and women are only half of birthing a baby. It takes all partners to engage fully in a sexual relationship. This does not matter if your relationship is female/male, male/male, female/female or any other combination of sex types. All partners need to be fully involved and fully engaged to make your sex life the best possible. Everyone has preferences, a voice, and a body. Just because someone does not like what you like does not mean you are wrong or broken, it just is an opportunity for you to explore something you haven’t thought of before. Speak up, use your body, and enjoy your personal preferences. Talk about it, give it a try, and be ready to compromise. This will make your sexual activity a great adventure.

3) Taking care of yourself and things

So often the problem with the couples sex life is they are overwhelmed and tired. They haven’t taken care of themselves because they are too busy taking care of others in the household, chasing deadlines, and making day to day operations run. Then when it comes time for them to connect, they turn on the TV and connect to the late night TV hosts instead of each other.

I often see one member of the couple over working to make the household run and one clueless about how much work it takes. They ask to help, but in doing so (rather than taking initiative and jumping in to be a partner) they are putting more pressure on the partner to manage everything, leading to more burnout. Don’t get me wrong they want to help and support each other, but they are lacking communication to actually be a team. They haven’t written out the plays they want to see executed and by who, together.

Thus one person remains in charge and often exhausted. And who wants to have sex when you are exhausted and overworked – it just becomes one more thing on your to do list and one more person to take care of while giving away your energy – defiantly not orgasm range. Just another messy 10 minutes out of your life. Without orgasm on a regular basis no one would continue to have sex. So why is it is surprising that half of this duo does not want to have sex on a regular basis. No orgasm, no 10 minute messy activity … no matter how fun it is supposed to be. The answer to this problem – communicate and work as a team not as a manager and employee.

Finally, take care of yourself. When ya’ll hooked up you probably thought each other was pretty hot, at least in some ways. Over time we often let ourselves go, “let it all hang out” literally, and do not practice the same level of hygiene we did back in the day. This change is ok, however if you have let yourself go to the point that your health is impacting your sexual drive, your negative thinking of self is getting in your way, or your stamina is gone, it is time to take back your health.

Healthy eating and sleep cycles cannot be underestimated for a healthy sex life. Nor can regular workouts which help keep energy moving and blood flow happening (everywhere). And you can’t ignore the way you think about yourself and your partner(s). If you are not speaking positive about yourself why should anyone else. Take control of your sex life by taking control of the way you talk and think about yourself.

Most of us feel difference in our sexual appetite and options as we age. This is normal, however there are many ways to work around these changes. The trick … be ready to ask for and seek out these options. Do not be embarrassed about your requests. For men, erection may become more difficult, for women lubrication may be needed. The changes can result in painful sexual experiences, yet there are ways to mitigate them if you are willing to speak up. The bottom line … be ready to experiment and talk. Speaking about what is happening for you, what you would like the try, and being willing to experiment with each other is the key to getting out of the sexual desert. Talk about it and it will get better.

So in the end the key to having a healthy sex life is talking about sex, not being embarrassed to ask for what you want and need, and about taking control of your preferences and desires.

Communicate the above clearly to your partner(s) and watch your sex life blossom.