I am about to hit the road with one of my oldest friends for a weekend away from the rest of the world.
We do this every year...with varied results. Sometimes we have an amazing time relaxing. Other times, we push each other to the brink as only lifelong friends can. Mostly, it’s a combination of the two. And I need it.
For these couple days each year, I am no one’s wife or mother or employee. I am just me, rewinding to when I was 18 and wanted to be a writer, just as I was when my friend and I first met.
Life becomes simple, and when the weekend ends, I feel recharged, refreshed and re-inspired.
Do you take planned breaks in the action like this? Research says not as much you should. In America, 54% of all workers did not use all of their allotted vacation days, according to the U.S. Travel Association. Please don't do that. The scientifically-backed mental and physical benefits of time off can not be underestimated.
You don't have to go far or spend a lot of money to experience those benefits. Here are some simple ways to create your own little retreat and get your groove back.
1. Read something for fun
You must escape your world and enter another one to really get outside yourself. I am mainly a fan of business books and biographies, so this time of year I need to read fiction. Reading just for fun is, well, fun, but it also gives your brain power a boost. Researchers at Stanford examined people's brain activity while reading Jane Austen and found increased blood flow to the regions of the subjects' brains associated with focusing on tasks. We can all use a little workout to strengthen our ability to pay attention to details and get things done, right?
2. Walk it out
Vigorous work outs will strengthen your body, and leisurely strolls will strengthen your ability to chill. It is hard to be distracted by problems plaguing you back in the office when you're distracted by natural beauty right in front of you. Walks force you to clear your thoughts, and I've often found that I come out the other side feeling a little more fit and a lot more calm.
3. Cook a meal
Sure, we eat out a bunch when I’m on these weekends away, but some of the best meals my friend and I have had involved chopping simple ingredients and pouring wine right there in our kitchen. I am no chef, so I'm talking about spaghetti, jarred sauce and pre-made garlic bread. But still, there is a nice simplicity to making something myself with no rush and good music playing in the back ground. And bonus, cooking and eating meals at home can improve your health overall, according to the CDC.
4. Go offline
This will be a new one this year. No email or social media for three days. I will have my phone so people can text in an emergency, but that's it. Instead of trying to capture memories on Instagram, I want to be present to take some pictures in my head. The National Health Service in the UK found that people who take a week off of Facebook showed more overall satisfaction with their lives. And who couldn't use a little more of that?
5. Don't do anything
I would tell you to try meditation like me, but I can’t calm down enough to do it myself. This is a helpful guide -- maybe you'll have better luck. (I'm trying, really!) And trying really is the point. Taking a quiet moment or two to just breathe forces you to stop thinking about the bills or all the work coming in the months ahead. It's brief, but those two minutes of mental vacation can make all the difference for me.
So as the summer winds down, you don’t have to head off to the South of France, but you do need to get out of your own head. I'm going away with one of my best friends in the world -- what will you do? Make sure you take some time to reset and refresh, and when Monday comes, you'll be ready to restart.