It’s your last day of work before you go on vacation. You look at the clock, and it says that only a minute has passed since the last time you looked at it. How can this be? It seems like it was at least 10 minutes since the last time you checked! The clock must be broken. Tick Tock Tick Tock… Finally, it’s time to go! All you could think about all day was leaving behind the stressful rat race, and enjoying your vacation.
But as you are driving home, you start thinking “What are we going to do? Did I pack everything? Will we be able to do all the activities we want to do? How early should we get up each day? What are we going to eat? Do we have enough money for this?”, etc etc. All of a sudden your relaxing time away from the rat race has turned into yet another stressful challenge…
It wasn’t until my anxiety caught up with me that I learned how to have an anxiety-free vacation. This vacation was spent at Niagara Falls, and at my grandparents’ cottage in Olcott, New York. There were many opportunities for my anxiety to creep up on me. By some of my habits and thoughts, I was able to have an anxiety-free vacation, and even come back home refreshed and ready for the work week. Here are some of the things I did:
Know Where You Are Going
Being lost is a fear that I think many people share. With the technology of today – Garmins, Blackberries, Google Maps, etc – there is almost no excuse for being lost. Make sure you check several different routes in advance, and print out all of the necessary maps. I was fortunate during my trip to Niagara because my parents have traveled through the falls on many occasions. They were able to tell me all of the little shortcuts, what to watch for, and how long everything was going to take. Despite being stopped at two borders by customs and immigration, driving through unfamiliar territory, and not having a good cell signal, the ride to Niagara was anxiety-free because of the thorough planning that took place before the trip.
Vacation is a time where everything should be slowed down and relaxed. Nothing is worse to me than waking up at the crack of dawn, frantically running around like a lunatic, and trying to see every tourist trap attraction within a 50 mile radius of where I’m supposed to be vacationing.
My Niagara Falls trip is a great example of a trip that wasn’t over-planned. I had enough down-time to relax, but at the same time I was never bored. Some of the stuff I was able to do by not over-planning included:
- Skipping rocks with my wife down at the beach
- Taking a walk on the pier
- Reading a Men’s Health Magazine
- Taking a nap on a hammock
- Shopping for healthy food
- Cooking several healthy meals
If my trip was over-planned, I never would have been able to take part in these relaxing activities. I also would have eaten more junk food, which can be a contributing factor to anxiety in itself.
Take Good Parts of Your Daily Routine With You
The hardest decision I had to make before I left for Niagara was whether or not I should bring my blender. I love having a green smoothie every morning and evening, so it was a tough decision to not bring the blender. I just figured it would be too much of a hassle, and I think I was right. I was able to bring some other parts of my daily routine with me, however, so it worked out. Below is a list of things I brought with me that I enjoy from my daily routine, as well as some stuff I don’t enjoy that I left behind:
Brought: My selection of teas (chamomile w/ lavender, peppermint/chamomile, green tea), all of my usual grooming products, sandals, music, blackberry w/ email turned off, Yoga mat, fishing pole.
Left Behind: Deadlines, thoughts of work, internet and email, taking care of the dog, mowing the grass, calling maintenance workers, etc.
Stop and Smell the Roses
Yeah I know, it’s an overused cliche. But seriously, stop, take a second, and just ‘BE‘ instead of ‘do’. Don’t think about anything-, anyone-, or anywhere-else, just be where you are, and take it all in. Niagara Falls was super busy while we were there. It was a beautiful weekend, and there were thousands and thousands of people in the park. It would have been easy to get impatient with the lines, or tired and cranky in the heat. Instead of letting negative emotions get the best of me, however, I focused on where I was; I was standing several feet from one of the greatest attractions in the world, on a beautiful day, with nothing else to do. The air was fresh, I was well rested, and I had just eaten a fine meal at one of the many great restaurants in the area.
A great way to formally ‘stop and smell the roses’ is to practice mindfulness meditation. I have my theories about why mindfulness meditation can be beneficial for people who suffer from anxiety and similar disorders, but if you are interested in some other background information and some proof of the benefits of mindfulness meditation, check out the video embedded below. This video is a recording of Jon Kabat-Zinn giving a speech at Google. He is talking about his practice, Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Healing.
Look for Calm in the Chaos
There aren’t many things more chaotic than hundreds of thousands of gallons of water crashing onto jagged rocks with a thunderous roar. Behind all the chaos, though, there is a steady, unwavering current. It continues and has continued for thousands of years. After the water crashes into the jagged rocks, it settles into a serene river below, slowly making its way out to its eventual destination of the Atlantic Ocean. The mist that sprays up from the gorge gathers on your skin and clothes slowly and unobtrusively, like condensation on a cold glass of water.
No matter how chaotic you may perceive portions of your vacation, realize that behind the chaos, there is always calm.
Have a Great Day