Going on holiday is often an effective way to get some respite from day-to-day obligations and demands. For some of us however, it is not as easy to de-stress as we would like. This article considers how our lifestyles can set us up for holiday failure, and suggests that relaxing on a more regular basis may be a more effective way of finding balance.
We all look forward to our summer holiday. It keeps us going as we slog through the increasingly busy early Summer months. The constant – though welcome – stream of work events, children’s outings, summer fêtes, sporting competitions and family barbecues reaches it’s peak towards the end of July, leaving many of us frazzled and ready for a break. We may find ourselves limping through the next couple of weeks, just holding on to that long awaited and much desired holiday break.
We start to idealise what this holiday will do for us and begin to rely on it, unconsciously of course, as a solution for the way we feel. However, while our holidays may be rewarding and fun and full of new memories, they may not provide the rest that we so desperately need. Many people need a holiday to recover from their holiday and struggle in those first few days back to the normal routine.
One way of understanding what is going on here is to look at what is happening to us on a physical level. Our bodies are in a constant state of processing, sorting and repairing. Our organs and tissues function without our conscious awareness, and are either activated or inhibited depending on what is going on around us. For example, if we are in danger, our heart rate is increased, our pupils are dilated to take more in and our stomach and intestines are shut down. This makes sense when you consider that we evolved alongside wild animals, and getting away from a bear is probably more important than digesting the remains of our last meal. Once we are safe and relaxed, our digestion returns to normal, our heart rate and breathing slows and balance is restored once more.
This process is controlled by the Autonomic Nervous System, which is divided into the Sympathetic and Parasympathetic branches. We may be more familiar with the term ‘fight-or-flight’ rather than Sympathetic Nervous System, and this is characterised by short, sharp, rapid bursts of nerve activity which can activate several systems at once. Very useful when we need to get out of trouble in a hurry. In contrast, the Parasympathetic Nervous System, consisting mainly of the Vagus nerve and its associated branches, transmits messages as rhythmical vibrations back and forth along single nerve pathways in order to relay sensory messages throughout the body. System-wide communication allows for all of the distinct parts of our bodies to work as a harmonious whole.
Both components of our Autonomic Nervous System are essential for our well-being, and they are designed to work together to keep us both safe and healthy. Unfortunately, our stressful modern lifestyles tend to push us into overdrive. The stress of having to be in multiple places at once, of pushing ourselves beyond our limits of exhaustion and keeping up with all our technological ‘conveniences’ the Sympathetic Nervous System activation becomes dominant causing imbalance within the body.
We may experience symptoms such as digestive problems, high blood pressure, muscle tension, poor sleep, irritability and anxiety. Our immune response can also be compromised and inflammation or susceptibility to infection may increase. We find it increasingly difficult to let go and relax, often looking for activities that perpetuate Sympathetic dominance, and feeling increasingly uncomfortable with physical rest as our minds race with thoughts and worries and anxieties.
So, looked at from the physical perspective alone, that push through the last few weeks before our summer holiday can really take a toll on our well-being. We keep going, hoping that our holiday can restore us to balance and harmony, but when it comes to it we end up planning, organising, lifting and carrying, driving a long way perhaps and staying in an unfamiliar environment, all the while living off processed foods and ice-creams! For some of us we may be lucky enough to get some time of real rest. Perhaps laying on the beach or beside the pool, a moment of stillness in a meadow or glade, or sitting beside a peaceful stream and letting the water slide by. Then too soon, we have to get back to our daily lives and start the activity all over again, without having had a chance to really and truly rest.
What we really need then is, rather than relying on a potentially stressful holiday to restore us, instead seek to restore the proper balance between the Sympathetic and Parasympathetic Nervous System on a regular basis. Starting by taking some time to slow your body down. Try it in this moment now, as you read these words. Just physically slow down those systems you have control over, specifically your movements and your breathing. Let your outward breath release longer than the inward breath, and try to breathe much more slowly overall. As you experience the peace that comes from just a few moments of this, you may get a sense of how much more enjoyable your holiday could be when you are already in this state of calm.
Another way of activating the Parasympathetic activity is getting out into nature. The quiet, slow rhythms of the natural world resonate with the gentle oscillations of the activity of the Vagus nerve, the muted range of colours and textures soothe rather than overload the senses and the insects and animals around typically take a slower pace that is calming to observe and emulate.
If you really cannot get out, consider using visualisation. Our bodies often respond to the imagination just as if it were a real encounter. Find a special place in your mind you would really like to be. Let yourself explore the colours and textures and sounds. Notice the sights and sounds and sensations and make some time to come here whenever you can. That way you never need wait for your holiday again.
Take some time to consider the following questions for yourself. Take care of yourself as you do so, as uncomfortable issues may arise. If you would like some support in sorting through your discoveries please feel free to get in touch.
- How often do you push yourself beyond your limits, telling yourself you will make it up at the weekend or next month?
- What excuses do you use to justify pushing yourself so hard? Which areas of your life do you feel you have no choice in? What would it be like to have a choice with this?
- If you have no diagnosed illness, do you still suffer from digestive issues, high blood pressure, irritability or are unable to sit still? Do you sleep poorly or feel exhausted all the time? Is your GP at a loss as to how to help?
- What stress-reducing activities do you do or would like to do? How often are you prepared to set aside time for these activities? What does your body really need?
- Can you imagine what it would be like to be more relaxed and stress free? What would the quality of your life be if you made this a priority?
If you need some help finding your own place of calm, and wish to experience the total physical release of accumulated stress and tension from your nervous system, I can help you develop the skills you need to restore inner calm and harmony. Contact me at email@example.com or on 07581 224539 and begin a journey of self-care and self-healing for a more relaxed and less stressed you.
If you liked this article, please feel free to comment or ask questions on Inner Joy’s facebook page. If you have your own burning question that you would like answered in a future article you can email me on firstname.lastname@example.org