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42. What Are Holidays For?

This can be an unsettling time of year. Although we are used to thinking that holidays are nice, there is something reassuring about the predictability of our normal weeks, the five days at work, the two days at home, or whatever routine it is. Our brains are used to it - they know to get into work mode on Mondays, and to relax on Fridays. They know they need a proper holiday from time to time, a week or more, and when that happens they know to go into yet another, 'I'm on holiday', mode. When suddenly our systems are presented with a long weekend here and a long weekend there, Easter holidays one minute, back at work for a couple of days the next, exams to revise for one day and a Royal Wedding street party to attend the next, our brains get very confused. What mode should it be in, holiday or work? Serious or frivolous? Enjoying the moment or investing in the future? Such confusion may deny us the real gain of holidays, which is renewal. This week's tip is about holidays, and what we need them for. Those of you who have read Stephen Covey's 'The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People' will know that the seventh habit is 'Sharpening the saw.' Suppose, he says, you were to come across someone in the woods working feverishly to cut down a tree. You ask him what he's doing. 'Can't you see?' comes the impatient reply, 'I'm cutting down this tree.' 'You look exhausted,' you say, 'how long have you been working?' 'Over five hours,' he says, 'and I'm worn out'. 'Well why not take a break for a few minutes and sharpen that saw?' you say, 'I'm sure it would go a lot faster.' 'I don't have time,' says the man, 'I'm too busy sawing!' We all need to rest and renew our minds, bodies and spirits from time to time, and our assumption is often that we need a holiday. But holidays don't always work, do they? Sometimes you come back from a holiday needing another holiday to recover. And periods like we've just had, where there are lots of days off over a few weeks, often unsettle more than they renew. On the other hand we can feel renewed by quite small, simple things, like a conversation with a friend or a day out. Given that most of us are not woodcutters, the question is, what is our equivalent to sharpening the saw? What works best for our own personal renewal? You only have to look at the different kinds of holidays that people take to appreciate the vast range of activities and situations that people consider to be renewing. Some people go on holiday in large groups of friends or family, others holiday in pairs or alone. Some like to sit on a beach and read novels, others like to travel to new places. Some want to eat and drink and rest, others to be active and have adventures. Sometimes work itself can feel like a holiday. I've heard working mothers, especially those with more than one small child, say that they need to get back to work 'for a rest'. If you have problems in your private life then work can give you a break from thinking about them, while holidays may only serve to open up endless time to ruminate and worry. That's not to say that we don't all need a rest from work on a regular basis, but knowing more about what you need a rest from can help, not only to design the right kind of holiday, but to know more about how to refresh yourself more generally. An interesting question to ask, therefore, is what in your life do you find depletes you most? Here are some things that you may need a holiday from: Not enough sleep A difficult relationship Sameness - same people, place, environment, routine Coping with change Too many people Too few people Intensive brain activity Strenuous physical activity Too many demands Too few demands Your job (your boss, the workload, the hours, the travel, the lack of time to yourself) Perpetual striving to achieve Having to be someone other than yourself Worrying (about money, work, relationships, health) A problem or situation you can't resolve The weather Sometimes what we feel we need, more than anything, is a holiday from ourselves. We want a break from our feelings, from our endless chewing over of problems, from our emotional reactions to people and situations, from our need to be perfect, from our aches, pains and complaints. There's a fortune to be made for the first travel agent who can arrange this... Until then, there are nevertheless things we can do to alleviate our symptoms, whether it's through removing ourselves from the things we react to, doing things which take our minds off our problems for a while, or nourishing ourselves in some other way. And then we can come back to our problems with renewed energy, new perspectives, and emotional states that are better suited to dealing with them. Try this: 1. What is your idea of a perfect way to renew yourself? You may have different methods for different kinds of renewal, and they may be simple things like having a hot bath, taking physical exercise, listening to music playing a game, doing something nice for someone, or they may be taking two weeks in the outer Hebrides. 2. Take one of your ideal 'holidays' and consider, what is it about that activity that is so renewing? What does it give you a holiday from, and what specifically is being renewed? 3. What do you need a holiday from right now? 4. How could you give yourself a 'holiday' today, or at least this week? Have some good holidays this week...