Betty W. Phillips, Ph.D., Psychology
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Self Care and Vacations

SELF CARE AND VACATIONS

Vacations are intended to be a time for self-care, not just a time to pack up and head to the beach. While vacations may actually be fun and relaxing, the reverse is often too true, and the longed-for escape turns into extra expenses and stress. This article is the sixth in a series on stress management written for Chatham County Line readers as requested for 2008. Please note, however, did you can contact me at any time with questions, requests for advice or requests for new columns.

What do I mean by self-care? Isn't that just selfishness? No, actually self-care and selfishness are quite different. Self-care is responsible attention to meeting our needs and some of our wants. Self-care became a basic need for us when our mothers stopped changing our diapers; we learned to walk and talk and we found that we have to do things for ourselves. Selfishness promotes one's own welfare without regard for others, often resulting in direct or indirect harm to other people. I don't advocate selfishness. Self-care, on the other hand, will allow us to become altruistic toward ourselves and others without depleting our resources. As we have learned in previous columns, stress depletes our inner resources and creates all kinds of mental and physical dysfunction. One vacation per year won't protect us from the stress monster!

So let's think about self-care and vacations on a daily, monthly and yearly basis. Daily? How do I qualify for a daily vacation? Well, obviously you don't, but daily stress breaks are mini-vacations from the hassles of life. Every hour or every half day, take at least a few minutes off from your required activity to relax, breathe deeply and look for some peace, beauty and tranquility. You say you don't have time for that? As stress mounts, without breaks and vacations, you'll find yourself marching into dysfunction and sickness or an early demise. A lot of people find themselves getting sick in order to slow down and take a break from life. They say they are unable to take time for themselves, but eventually their mind or body breaks down and they are forced to step to the side lines of life at least for the duration of the illness. But that's not much fun, and you usually feel lousy most of that time. So let's plan for daily mini-vacations. At home find a respite area just for you: comfortable, organized, with a touch of beauty, perhaps flowers, special pictures, beautiful music. Arrange a similar place in your office filled with special things to comfort you whenever you have a moment to breathe deeply, stretch and relax your mind and body. If the right areas aren't available at home or in your office, you can find respite places outside to sit or walk while seeking peace and relaxation.

In the "good old days" at least one weekend day used to be a time of rest: bountiful food, family interactions, play and fun, perhaps reading, exercising, napping. Sound good? Are you ever able to do this? Why not? At least try for one half day per weekend. You and your family deserve it! You may have to turn off the TV and the computer and round up complaining children, but you will usually find that family time together builds a sense of commonality and helps you all recharge for the week ahead.

So how about the vacation week at the beach or advertised travel destination? That's great if you can afford it and you plan your time and activities for maximum R and R. Involve each family member in planning goals for the vacation, realizing that you cannot do it all. Too many activities or competing plans will often cause arguments, stress and frustration. Make sure that your goal includes fun, play and rejuvenation for all. You might want to avoid an obligatory extended-family "vacation" event if the results have not been positive in the past. You may have an obligation to love and care for your extended family, but you don't have to vacation with them unless it's a good experience for you, your spouse and children.

If your vacation time is limited or your funds constrained, consider a "staycation" using your home as the "motel" for fun and play activities. You can take side-trips, plan time at the pool, sleep-in times, and eat dinner out at your favorite local restaurants. Just be sure that you don't get caught up in household chores. That's not a vacation. Other options are distributing your vacation week time into longer weekends throughout the year, perhaps attached onto holidays for more get-away time.

The bottom line is to plan your vacation time as a real alternative to work and stress. So enjoy all your vacations! Your health and happiness may depend upon it!