You've got this golden gift of time about to unfold before you. You've successfully negotiated a break from work and you're off into the world to pursue your passion. Whether it's a couple of days or several months on sabbatical, how do you make the most of this precious time off? How can you ensure you return refreshed and recharged having had the the time of your life? Four things...
As it turns out, there's been a lot of research done into the things that help people recover from work stress and recharge their energy. In reviewing the research from a German psychologist, Prof. Sabine Sonnetag, David Newman's DRAMMA model and work by Gruman & Healey, these four things need to be present in any break for the time away to help you recuperate and perform when you return to work.
Simple. Do something that you find to be relaxing. As obvious as this sounds, the key here is what YOU find relaxing. If meditating with monks in a remote Himalayan village would be idyllic for you, go for it. If that sounds like your idea of hell, don't do it. It's easy to get caught up in a long list of things you think you "should" be doing. Be honest with yourself, what you like and what you need.
Being able to decide what you want to do, or not do, and when, is critical. Be in control of your planned and unplanned time. The research shows that if someone else is controlling your schedule, you won't be able to recover your energy as quickly. This can be particularly difficult for parents where it feels like your Tiny Terrorists are in the lead every day but it's important to plan in periods of unplanned time, as much as possible, where there is little or no schedule.
3) Nourish - body, mind and soul
Now this is a big one. On a break it's important to take stock of where we are at in terms of our physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing.
Using your break to nurture your body back to health by eating your vegetables, or having an alcohol detox might be what you need. It can also be about incorporating pleasurable exercise into what you do on your break - hiking is a great example.
It may be that you need to focus on feeding our soul. This is where you're doing things or being with people that make your heart sing. For extraverts, this might be surrounding yourself with family or meeting lots of new people while your travel. For introverts, this might be spending quality time with a few important people, or giving yourself some quiet 'me time'.
The way to nourish your mind is not as obvious, but it's really interesting. You'd be forgiven for thinking that the best way to recharge your brain is to not use it. But the research shows exactly the opposite. It's about including in your time away some 'mastery activities' - something that is mentally absorbing, but that you find pleasurable. The classic examples would be playing chess, writing a book or learning a language. While you're doing a mastery activity, your focus is completely in the present moment, doing something you enjoy. When you spend your time on these activities, days seem to stretch longer as you're enjoying and noticing every minute. It's exactly the same reason that people who've had great sabbaticals feel like they were away from work for a long time, while the people who remained at work are surprised you're already back.
Put down the laptop. Turn off your phone. Allow your brain to recover. Simple to say, difficult to stick to. The trick to this one is about planning before you leave. Put support mechanisms in place for while you're away. Set expectations. Stick to your boundaries. They'll cope! The only person who will be the gatekeeper of your time off is you. Guard it with your life.
As you can tell, there are lots of things you could do that will help you tick off multiples of these at the same time. Practicing yoga, for example, would help you with relaxation, disconnection and mastery activities to nourish your mind and exercise to nourish your body. What's important is that your break has all four in varying doses depending on what you need most. The best breaks include all four.
If I look back on the sabbaticals or vacations that weren't as recharging, it's because one or more of these elements was missing. I was running around keeping myself busy, mastering nothing, with no time to relax. Or I was following someone else's schedule. Or I stayed available and connected to work. I returned feeling tired, not rested and wondered why.
Getting the most out of your time away is more about choosing what not to do. Plan large chunks of unplanned time. Give yourself permission to spend a lot of time being absorbed in something you love doing. Rest. Relax. Recharge. Your future self will thank you.
Beyond a Break exists to help people and companies use the power of time off to boost wellbeing. Through coaching, workshops and leave programs we're encouraging the world to pause, reflect, recharge and return thriving. For more inspiration check our out latest articles and free tools.