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Why Don't Vacation "Highs" Last Longer?

We count the days until our vacation. Then, when it finally arrives, we go and have a wonderful time, soaking in the sights, disconnecting from work, and recharging.

We return to the office feeling relaxed, energized, and full of memories, but before we know it, the “vacation high” wears off, and we’re back to feeling burnt out. In a matter of days, we’re ready for another vacation. What gives?

Vacations are meant to be a reboot, so why do we feel like the reboots only last for a short period of time? Why can’t it last longer?

Good news: it can! You just have to know how to harness the power of vacations and incorporate it into your day-to-day life.

Your Brain on Vacation

According to the NLI Healthy Mind Platter, our brains need the following things to be healthy and happy:

  • Sleep time — Sleep enhances memory, creative thinking, and learning.

  • Exercise time — Exercise of any kind increases neuroplasticity which drives greater memory formation, learning, and impulse control.

  • Focus time — When you can focus on things you like doing, you get “in the zone” or in a “flow state” where our brains perform optimally.

  • Connecting time — We’re social creatures, and connecting with others helps us confront challenges, manage stress, and maintain a positive outlook.

  • Playtime — Playtime allows for spontaneity and letting go of an agenda, which is really important. Playtime sparks joy which is crucial for creativity, problem-solving, and relationships.

  • Downtime — Giving ourselves downtime boosts our moods, performance and concentration. It also gives us the freedom to daydream, which is rejuvenating and refreshing for our brains. When we daydream, the activity in our prefrontal cortex lowers, which allows for more insight. It also could be the key to solving problems or coming up with new ideas.

  • Time in mindfulness — Mindfulness puts us more in control of our emotions and is a practice that allows us to challenge our ways of thinking and be less reactive to stressors.

When we’re on vacation, more often than not, we’re doing several (or all) of these things that our brain loves.

Think about it. On vacations, we get more time to sleep, focus, play, and relax. Even if you aren’t super active on vacations, you’re likely still moving around more than you do when you’re sitting behind a desk for eight hours a day.

There’s also usually quite a bit of connection that happens during vacations. Even if you’re solo traveling, you’re still connecting with tour guides, waiters, and more.

Even mindfulness comes easier on vacation. We can easily say, “I don’t want to think about that right now,” or “I’m really excited about this!” We can choose our thoughts and emotions pretty easily while doing things we love on vacation.

In short, vacations feel amazing because we prioritize ourselves and give our brain all the things it needs to be optimized. But, when we get back to work, we stop doing these things and don’t give ourselves this time.

Even worse, we expend more energy trying to keep up and maintain the high so we actually burn ourselves out faster. And when we do allow ourselves some self-care, we don’t make it a habit. News flash: doing self-care once isn’t going to miraculously change years and years of neglect.

The crazy thing is that you don’t have to do these activities for a significant amount of time every day. You just have to be intentional and consistent in giving your brains what they need. Then, over time, you can maximize the function of your prefrontal cortex, generate more energy, and prevent burnout.

3 Steps for Keeping the Vacation High Going

Here are three quick tips for prioritizing self-care to feel rejuvenated year-round.

1. Start to Notice Your Behaviors

Start paying attention when you’re practicing the seven activities on the Healthy Mind Platter. You can start taking notes while on vacation or during a regular week. Starting your assessment while on vacation might make it easier to notice how often you aren’t doing them during your typical week.

Ask yourself questions. When do you do each of these activities? For how long and under what circumstances are you practicing these activities? When do you laugh, play, relax, and daydream?

You might find that you aren’t doing any of these things regularly. That’s okay. It’s why you’re starting with an assessment. Be honest and don’t judge yourself. This is the first step to getting where you need to be.

2. Give Yourself Permission

Many of our clients tell us, “I don’t have the time for that,” but somehow, we find plenty of time on vacation. Most of these things aren’t time-consuming, but you have to make yourself a priority. Your excuses are proof that you’re prioritizing other things over yourself.

Remember, doing these things isn’t selfish. It’s about giving self-care equal priority to your other daily to-dos. When you suffer, others suffer. So what can you tell yourself today to start giving yourself permission to make yourself a priority?

3. Make a Plan

For many of us, doing these things isn’t natural. So, start small. Maybe just pick one category and then build on it a little every day until it’s a habit.

For example, try going to sleep just five minutes earlier every night. Then, try five more minutes. Continue to alter your bedtime until you consistently get enough sleep. For exercise, if your meeting ends five minutes early, go for a lap around your house or office. You can combine these things as well. Daydream while you exercise or call someone so you can connect while you walk. You get the idea!

Make a plan to take small, clear, and consistent steps to mimic your highs from vacation.

Take Small Steps to Feel That Vacation Reboot All The Time

When you take care of your brain and body, you reap a lot of benefits and so do others around you. It’s time you start treating yourself as if you’re on vacation all the time. You’re worth it.

Start taking small steps until you’re consistently doing all the things on the Healthy Mind Platter. Once you’ve built the habit of self-care, your vacation highs will last longer, and you’ll be a lot less likely to suffer from burnout.

If taking care of yourself is hard to do, we can help. Learn how to maintain your vacation high with our REFUEL! Program.


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