Quick and easy tips to switch to holiday mode

The summer holidays are in full swing, the school books have been packed away and the ice cream is flowing.

But perhaps you don’t yet feel totally rested – in fact, you might even catch yourself thinking ‘Omg, I really need a holiday!’

So what counts as a holiday when it comes to our wellbeing? We spoke to health writer and psychotherapist Christine Webber about the effects of having a break, and how to tell your mind and body that, even though that exciting getaway might not materialise this year, this is the time to relax and recharge.

Staying healthy is a balancing act

But first, back to basics. It might sound obvious, but everyone needs time away from their day-to-day routine. Christine suggests having time off acts like a ‘reset’ button. This can help you return to your daily life refreshed and in a better mindset.

“A lot of people don’t have that work-life balance generally,” says Christine. “Holidays are a way of mending that.”

In conducting a series of clinical holiday health studies in 2013, Christine found that a getaway can affect many things to do with physical health. There were two different groups: one that travelled for a holiday and one that spent time at home as normal. The group that took a holiday had lower blood pressure, better quality of sleep, higher energy levels and coped better with stress for weeks afterwards compared to the group which stayed at home.

While jetting off for some sunshine might not be feasible this year, it’s important to not to dismiss having time off while at home. Christine recommends a few small adjustments that can help us recreate some of the benefits of a trip away.

Bonding in the digital age

One of the upsides of having time off from school or work is being able to spend some more time with the people we love.

“Seeing someone face-to-face creates more of the bonding hormone, oxytocin, in our bloodstreams,” she says. “Oxytocin is important because it acts as a sort of stress-buster.”

Stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline aren’t good for us in large doses, but are counteracted by oxytocin, which can make us feel safe and at ease.

“So while many of us aren’t face-to-face in reality, the next best thing is that we’re talking through a screen and smiling at each other - feeling the warmth from the other person.”

As social distancing rules can rapidly change, visiting extended family can be difficult. Christine says technology can be a huge help with this.

However, tech can also make it difficult to switch into ‘holiday mode’, so it’s important to also arrange something you can do outside with your family if possible.

“Get out, get really active,” says Christine. “It’s not a good idea to only stay in watching box sets and Skypeing our grandparents - we’ve done months of that.”

If you can’t be with your loved one there are other ways to boost those oxytocin levels. Playing with pets, giving someone a compliment or sending them a gift are good ways of making someone else feel loved, which makes you feel good in return.

As long as you stick to social distancing rules, a trip to a local beach can be part of your holiday activity

Another way of going all-inclusive

Christine also recommends asking what each family member wants to do so that everyone gets to be a part of the planning - don’t leave it all up to the parents. This creates a shared experience, which allows us to bond.

“There is no template,” says Christine. “We’re all having to find our own way while we’re all uncertain… make it feel like a holiday even if it’s not the type of holiday you’re used to.”

Maybe you’d like to work together to set up your own garden or living room ‘glamping’ holiday, complete with face masks. Or you could have a ‘no technology’ get together where you focus on activities away from school, work or other distractions.

You could also do the opposite and have an extended family video call event. As long as it’s different for you, as anything that feels like a break from your usual routine can do wonders for your mental health.

If you’re staying at home, it might be tempting to catch up with life admin or just do lots of chores. If spending an afternoon on some long-overdue cleaning is what you need, great – but make sure you have a variety of activities planned, including a spot of just watching the world go by. Spending your break trying to be efficient and well-organised probably won’t have the refreshing effect you need.

Do I 'need' a holiday during social distancing?

Unless members of your family are front line workers, you might have had more quality time with them than you’re used to during lockdown. Perhaps you’ve done more baking and gardening together and gone on family walks. If the novelty has worn off, Christine suggests trying to find ways to connect that feel ‘like you’.

“I think the big reason for having a family holiday this year would be simply to reconnect in a way that feels more ‘normal’,” says Christine.

A big trip might be unrealistic due to the impact of Covid-19, but a holiday can be as simple a change of scenery.

“We all need to schedule something different,” Christine suggests. “A new walk one day, a drive to the coast another.”

Essentially, it’s the activities which come with a holiday that we need. To actually recharge your batteries, as well as get some well-deserved rest, you should find some time to indulge in them. Quality time with loved ones, exercise and new experiences – all the things that we might put on hold in our daily lives – are things which can make us feel relaxed, rested and refreshed.

There's plenty of ways you can make staying at home 'feel' like a holiday

Six things you can do to make home feel more like a holiday

Think back to a great holiday you’ve had – was there anything you could try bringing back from that time that would give you instant holiday feels? If you’re stuck for ideas, we have some classics to get you started:

  • Read a book. Sure, you might have done plenty of reading while studying, but nothing says holiday like getting through a bestselling paperback while relaxing on a sun lounger. Make a cold drink, find a space and get rid of all distractions to recreate that peaceful poolside reading environment

  • Make your house smell like a beach. Sights, sounds and smells are powerful memory-makers, and certain smells can lift our mood. If you love a day on the sands, why not put together a DIY scent? The smell of sunscreen or aftersun might help you get in the holiday mood, too

  • Dress up. Floral shirt and shorts combos, sunscreen, sandals - the works! Why not get the family involved and do a whole day of summer activities, complete with the clothes

  • Have holiday food. Once you've got the outfit sorted, how about recreating a holiday meal that was particularly good?

  • Play board games. A holiday just isn't a holiday without a family card or board game. Ransack the cupboards for your old favourites and dedicate some time to play together - or try something new online or with your phones

  • Make some frozen treats. A simple but effective summer activity. Freeze fresh fruit juice or yoghurt to make refreshing ice lollies, or even have a go at making your own icecream to share with your loved ones. The perfect addition to your DIY summer holiday!

Remember, the aim is to recreate what's different and pleasant for you, so it doesn't need to be too complicated or expensive.

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