Here’s how to start making 2015 your best year yet: Take time off now. Chronic stress can lock your brain into repetitive unproductive behavior, and studies suggest that vacations are critical to restoring this type of higher-brain function. The brain is resilient if given the chance to heal–but you have to truly unplug to bounce back. From The End of Stress: Four Steps to Rewire Your Brain.
Recently I took at a vacation on the Monterey Peninsula. I was standing on the dunes just above the beach, looking out over the magnificent scenery, and I was surprised to see a number of adult vacationers looking down at their smartphones, not at the sea and sky, while around them, kids were pecking away at handheld devices instead of building sand castles. This is not giving the brain the break it requires to recover from how hard it was pushed last year. We should think of vacation as a neurological intensive care unit, where our condition requires that we be sequestered from the stress and strain of the outside world.
It takes a kind of mental discipline to let go of the office and open our minds to the renewal that a mix of leisure and adventure can generate. We may be afraid that our workload will grow exponentially while we’re away, or that some ambitious understudy will dazzle the boss in our absence and steal our job. It takes courage to let go of those fears and wake up to the biological evidence encouraging us to leave the job behind for a few weeks. If you do, the evidence says you’ll return to work with a brand new brain generating the cerebral power to produce your best year ever.
A Vacation Guide for Healing Your Brain
Before you leave, make the goal of your vacation to succeed at extending love, feeling at peace, and experiencing joy. All three are good medicine for the brain. Be certain to make a plan with an assistant or trusted colleague at work for contacting you in the case of something urgent. Then set up your email account with an autoresponder and create email and voice messages that refer people to your office contact for urgent issues.
Once you arrive at your destination, commit to using your smartphone for local calls only, not routine calls to the office. Use your tablet for reading books and playing solitaire, not for work. If you have to use a work device, be disciplined about it. It should only be for a pressing, unavoidable issue. Let nonurgent business messages go to voice mail, and don’t let yourself get sucked into emails by reading them first thing in the morning.
Start each day in quiet. Allow your heart and mind to open wide to the freshness and freedom a vacation engenders. Make it a practice to quiet any obsession you might have with electronic devices. Look up from the device and take in the world around you. Remind yourself that your smartphone isn’t the place where your vacation is happening.
Be present, right here, right now. Let go of the past and future whenever it raises its stress-provoking head. Let go of worries and judgments. Commit to tuning in to the loved ones who are with you. Take the opportunity to discover them all over again. Lean into appreciating them.