Will you be taking some time off during the holiday season? In the midst of whatever you have
planned, setting intentions about what you need physically, mentally, and emotionally is
perhaps more important than ever. Consider how your time off can actually be a reset, how it
can be medicine for you.
Have you ever felt, returning to work after a vacation, that you’re just as exhausted as when
you left? Have you ever felt unavailable to the pleasures of leisure or travel because you’re just
so very tired? When we’re in burnout or on the edges of it, we can end up sleepwalking
through life, not just at work, but on our own time, too. We squeeze too much into our
vacation time because the accelerated pace has become our new normal.
Burnout can feel like the world presents itself in the form of an endless to-do list. We begin to
see people, even the ones we love the most, only in terms of what they need from us: a
mundane, repetitive march of “shoulds” and “supposed-to’s”.
Those of us who are type-A, high-achiever types may find that our sense of duty and drive has
overridden all other aspects of our being. All the things we’ve wished for and sought out: a
career, home, even family – coalesce into an endless labyrinth of overfunctioning. We meet
everything in life in terms of what is required of us. Our days became a parade of tasks, which
only a checking-off would bring some whisper of satisfaction before we’re inevitably onto the
next task. We may find ourselves stuck on a “rinse, repeat” cycle on this treadmill, whether at
work, home on the weekend, or away on vacation.
Here are some tools to help ensure that you liberate yourself from your treadmill and get what
you need from your vacation, long weekend, or any respite. First, allow yourself to step out of
relentless productivity. Plan and block this non-productive time as you would any other
commitment. It will take intention and deliberate permission for you to shift into another gear.
Purposely set aside time to ask yourself, “What do I need?” If this question stumps you, you’re
not alone. Many of us are so programmed to take care of others and manage everything
around us, this question is a radical one. The answer might not be readily available – that’s
okay. That’s not a signal to jump back into taking-care-of-all-the people-and-all-the-things
mode. Let the question linger in your mind, without an answer, and see what arrives. As you
ponder this, consider your emotional needs as well. This time of year can trigger so many
memories and emotions. We may feel losses more acutely, even those we grieved long ago;
meanwhile the culture bombards us with imagery of celebration, cheer, and high spirits. Allow
yourself to feel and process both positive and negative emotions, with self-compassion instead
You are a living being who gives – and needs — energy. What energizes and replenishes you?
Pause there for a moment and ask again. At this time of year, what do you need?
Do you need a break from the relentless pace of your daily life? When you read those words, is
there a “Yes” resonating through your body? If so, think about where you can alter the pace of
some part of your weekend or vacation. Where can you let things slow down, let time open up,
and do something slowly? Is there a container of time where you can meander, dabble, putter –
with no agenda? If those words are music to your ears, that’s a signal to you— create a an
intentional space of time where the pace is slower.
What brings you joy? Often it’s the simplest things, right there within our reach. If we’re too
much in our heads, we aren’t present to the pleasures around us, and the positive emotions
available in savoring them. Many of us have become so addicted to multitasking, we’re not
fully present anywhere. We can’t relax when we do have down time, so we go into autopilot,
buffering and distracting ourselves with false pleasures: mindless eating and drinking, shopping,
scrolling. These activities masquerade as rest, providing a temporary escape from how we’re
feeling. They don’t replenish us in the long run.
The portals to presence – the portals through which you receive energy — are your five senses.
Deploy them intentionally, and they will take you out of your head and into your body. For
example, if you’re making coffee on your day off, don’t just get it done. Dial down the pace and
deploy your senses. Step away from To-Do mode and experience the miracle that is coffee.
Listen to the reassuring hum of water boiling, and that satisfying gurgle of liquid rushing into
the mug. Your cup is being filled, literally and figurately. Receive it. Inhale the wonderful smell,
connect with it. Wrap both hands around the cup and feel its warmth, warming you. Notice the
delicate curl of steam rising; follow it with your eyes. And of course: really taste that first sip.
You can apply this same conscious attention to any activity that you enjoy but usually must rush
through on a typical day. Wherever you can, slow down the pace and allow yourself to connect
to what’s around you. The more you can tune into your senses, the more you signal to your
nervous system that you’re stepping off the treadmill, that this is a time to refuel.
Turning your attention toward your needs isn’t self-indulgent – it’s strategic. Consciously
attending to your own energy is what allows you to sustain all that you give to others and the
world. Your mind and body can’t power down into rest and repair without your deliberate
permission, and this season is an especially important time to rest, reset, and renew.