Ah, summer -- the traditional time for vacations. A chance to regroup, re-energize, refresh.
Not always, some experts say. In fact, some people may find their vacations are actually more stressful than their work schedules.
“Vacation time is exciting but travelling means changes in our environment: unfamiliar sights, sounds, smells and routines,” says Dr. Simon Rego, Director of Clinical Training, American Institute for Cognitive Therapy in New York City. “These are stressors that can trigger our ancient fight-or-flight response, which kicks in when we’re faced with real or imagined danger. In the absence of a physical threat, this stress alarm can cause worry, irritability and impatience.”
“Anticipating and preparing for stressful situations can help you to manage vacation stress,” says Dr. Rego. “To reduce stress at the airport, allow extra time. To reduce irritability with the children, designate the other parent to take more responsibility for awhile, then switch off later. Practice relaxation techniques. Try to have realistic expectations. Don’t expect perfection, but don’t fear the worst.”
You can plan for a more relaxing vacation. Joe Folkman, managing director of BT.Novations, a human resources consulting firm, offers these tips.
Ten tips for reducing vacation stress
1. Stay in fewer places longer.
2. Don't pack the schedule. Leave time open for relaxing.
3. Make the vacation affordable and stay within your budget. Nothing is more stressful than spending more than you can afford.
4. When vacationing with a family, find ways to satisfy a little bit of everyone's needs. Help children realize that they have to make some tradeoffs too.
5. If you're stressed because things are piling up at work, take an afternoon and do some work while family members enjoy other activities, Folkman recommends. You'll probably be more fun to be around because you've gotten some things off your to-do list.
6. Take time to genuinely appreciate where you are, what you're doing and whom you're with, and tell those with you what you appreciate.
7. Have fun along the way. Make your time in a car or on a plane special. Listen to a book on tape. When everyone is interested in the story, they can't wait to get back in the car.
8. Plan group as well as "alone" activities. An early morning walk on the beach can be the best part of a vacation.
9. Balance flexibility ("We're having fun; let's do this longer.") with timeliness ("We have to be up and packed by 6 a.m. to catch the plane).
10. Decide to have fun. After all, you're on a vacation!
Coping with holiday stress
How to relax
Simon A. Rego, PsyD, Director of Clinical Training, American Institute for Cognitive Therapy, New York City.
Portions of this article were reprinted from Strategies to Make Your Vacation a Stress Buster with permission from Wellness Management Information Center, 1913 Atlantic Ave, 200, Manasquan, NJ 08736. Copyright Wellness Management Information Center. All rights reserved. Targeted information for healthcare professionals.
updated July 1, 2010