How to really relax on holiday

It’s difficult not to start your holiday with residual stress nagging, having busted a gut to get your work done, your packing complete, your home in order, and your itinerary nailed – but it doesn’t have to be that way if you approach your holiday the right way.

Indulge in the anticipation
‘Research shows that pleasure comes in three parts; anticipation, the event itself, and the remembering of the event,’ says coaching psychologist Jessica Chivers. ‘Swap an hour of TV in the evenings for an hour with your Lonely Planet guide out, searching Instagram, and reading travel blogs to get inspired about where to go and what to eat.’ As 40 per cent of couples argue daily while on holiday, see off potential stress by discussing your expectations with those who are joining you.

Be realistic at work
In order to enjoy that delicious holiday anticipation, you need to make some adjustments at work. ‘Prioritise and rework deadlines to allow yourself some space,’ advises Chivers. ‘If you usually reply as soon as someone emails you, in the days before you depart only respond to important messages. You want to be closing things down, rather than opening things up.’

Read more: how to break out of the anxiety trap

Dial down the social scene
If you’re tying up loose ends at work, the last thing you need is a social diary sending you into a tailspin, especially as research shows British women feel they get just 17 minutes a day to themselves. ‘Limit social activities – you’ll be having enough pleasure on holiday,’ advises Chivers.

Loose the ‘should’
We put pressure on holidays, striving to tick off a ‘must-see’, ‘must-do’, and ‘must-eat’ list, thinking we need to get our picture taken in front of every major monument to prove we squeezed every drop out of our holiday. ‘Holidays are about having life-enhancing experiences, so think about what a good holiday is for you,’ says Chivers. ‘How do you want to feel? Is it about communing with nature, cultural enrichment or being spontaneous? Work out what you want, then savour it. The perfect holiday comes by approaching it with self-awareness.’

Manage money
Set a realistic budget and stick to it – over a third of Brits overspend on holidays, and the prospect of returning to a pile of credit card bills can cause major stress. ‘A budget makes it clear to everyone what the constraints are,’ says Chivers. ‘And it makes you prioritise pleasures. Doing lots of things isn’t restful, but one thing a day is, be that a gorgeous meal, an indulgent massage or an exciting excursion.’

Really unplug
‘When people tell me they look at work emails while away (34 per cent of us check them daily), I always ask, what are you looking for, and what will you do about it?,’ says Chivers. ‘If you see an emergency unfolding, you won’t ignore it, so there’s no such thing as “just looking”. Be clear you aren’t available for those dates and tell them who they can speak to in your absence. Say you’ll be returning a day later than you are so the first day back you can work undisturbed. If you have to be contactable, make a rule – assign 10 minutes each morning. You owe it to yourself, your colleagues and clients to take a break, disconnect and come back refreshed.’

Read more: 6 stress-busting Pilates moves

Build in a cushion
Schedule your return flight so you have a day to sleep in, run errands, restock the fridge and readjust. ‘Research shows when we go on holiday we remember the peak experience and ending, so if the end’s rushed and stressful, your whole holiday will be tainted,’ says Chivers. ‘So, if you’re going first class one way, make it the return leg. Avoid “back to reality dread” by ending your trip on a high. Indulge in the warm afterglow.’

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