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The end of year sprint. Burnout. A cost of living crisis. Caregiving responsibilities. A distressing news cycle. For many of us, it’s been a tough, busy and fast year. So, needless to say, there are many reasons you may have booked in some upcoming annual leave to recover.
While “making the most” of your rest time may seem counterproductive, heading into time off without a plan can result in your precious days slipping away.
Not sure how to make the most of your time off? These experts have some suggestions.Credit: iStock
But to feel truly rested, is it better to connect with loved ones or enjoy alone time? Work through that long-delayed to-do list or truly do nothing at all? Here, three psychologists weigh in on how to make your time off count.
What to do when you have a day off
Consider what you value most
Sydney-based psychologist Jemma Rollo emphasises the importance of planning rest time – and not just during the holidays – to ensure it actually happens. When deciding how to spend your time off, even if it’s just a single day, she recommends examining your values, which she defines as “the deeper things we care about, and how we want to be as people”.
Clinical psychologist, researcher and lecturer Dr Anastasia Hronis also recommends deciding what kind of break you want before it begins. She suggests defining your break into one of three categories: the low effort, pleasurable or meaningful.
A low effort break centres on things that require minimal effort and engagement like watching TV, sleeping, sitting outside, listening to music or taking a bath. A pleasurable break involves activities that “don’t need to serve a greater function than just being fun”, like having a massage or completing a puzzle. And finally, the meaningful break involves choosing activities that align with your values.
“If you value relationships and connection, you would look to seek meaningful time with people you care about,” says Rollo. “If you value health, you may allocate more time to exercise or book medical appointments; if you value adventure or exploration, you may be trying new things, visiting new places or learning something.”
Hronis also points out that these values-based activities “might not always feel easy or pleasurable in the moment, but are important in cultivating an overall sense of satisfaction and contentment in life”.
Do something you wouldn’t normally do
Taking some time to consider what a “regular day” looks like for you can help you plan.
“If you do work that is high in helping or social demands, you may want to balance that with time alone,” Rollo says. Conversely, if your regular day involves you working from home alone, it could be helpful to get outside and connect with others. “If you are feeling tired, think about the things that give you energy. If you are bored or feel in a rut with work, you may want to try something new or exciting.”
What feels restorative varies from person to person, Rollo explains.
Feel free to say “no”
Dr Chris Cheers, a psychologist and author of The New Rulebook, says that ensuring your day off actually feels like a day off often means “doing things that might make us uncomfortable, like saying no, setting a work boundary or cancelling plans.”
To protect the time you’ve carved out for yourself, consider turning off your phone or email notifications and logging out of social media, so the day doesn’t disappear in a flurry of texts or down a TikTok rabbit hole.
What to do when you have a week off
Create a to-do list (with fun things only)
If you have a few days or a whole week off, Hronis suggests creating a list of activities you’d enjoy, and choosing one each day that matches your mood and energy levels.
Cheers also recommends checking in with yourself and asking exactly what you feel like doing today, then working out how you can make that happen.
“Our emotions often tell us more than our thoughts if we listen,” he says.
Don’t try and fit too much into your days
According to Cheers, taking your week off one day at a time is a good idea because “what is most meaningful to you may change from day to day”. And remember to do what you want to do, not what others might expect of you, he adds.
Consider setting aside a whole day for one activity, like cooking a complex recipe, heading to the beach or catching up on a TV show. If this feels like too much of a commitment, split your day into sections dedicated to different activities. Or switch it up and do some exercise in the morning, then leave the afternoon wide open for lazing around.
What to do when you have a month off
Make time for someone or something you’ve been missing
A month off can feel like a lifetime or whizz by, depending on what you do with it. Cheers recommends spending time with someone important who you don’t see that often or making progress on “creating something meaningful to you”, like an art project.
When you think back on the year, are there any hobbies you wish you had more time for? Dedicate some time to that thing you love, whether it’s finishing a video game or finally taking that bushwalk.
Kick-start a new habit (or break an old one)
Cheers urges you to remember that “little changes to the way you live each day will change your life”. So, ask yourself whether you’d like to use the time to form new habits you know would be good for your wellbeing, like a mindfulness practice or journaling, or change unhelpful ones. But most importantly, trust your gut on what will feel most restorative.
“The world will not give you rest. You have to take it,” Cheers says. “Rather than planning for rest in the future, consider ways to rest today, even if it’s just a little.”
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