Dr. Kristin Schaefer-Schiumo| Manhasset NY

"Unplug" On Your Summer Vacation

What do you think of when you read the word vacation? Do you think of a time of relaxation and recreation in a far off or exotic place? Do you think of the now popular stay-cations, which also are meant to be a time of rest and fun? Or, has vacation come to mean a time in which you frustrate yourself and those around you by trying to cram office work into your time of "relaxation and peace?" Research data clearly show that vacations are like sleep, and that we truly need them in order to rest and recover from the stress of our everyday lives. Vacations allow us to have new experiences, make new memories, and connect with loved ones. They are also a time to relax and rejuvenate. In day to day work life, many people use caffeine as a way to perk up or reenergize. However, this increases our adrenaline levels past the point of healthy adrenal functioning and then, as we know, we experience the crash. Exhaustion and fogginess return. Instead, we can use walks in the woods, strolls on the beach, or canoeing down rivers to reduce our stress hormones and restore an overall sense of calm and well-being. Here are a few suggestions to help you "unplug" from work expectations and everyday stresses and truly "recharge" over vacation.

  1. On a practical level, it would be wise to implement a technology detox at some point during your summer vacation. The electromagnetic frequencies or backlight associated with screens, such as tablets, IPads, IPhones, laptops and desktops, clearly have been linked to decreased melatonin levels. This results in difficulty falling asleep and poorer quality of sleep, which can lead to increased anxiety and stress and decreased attention and motivation. Further research now also clearly links the electromagnetic frequencies of these devices for increased cancer risk. So, overall, it would seem that a detox is a good idea for many reasons. For your technology detox, consider picking days, or times of each day, in which everyone places their devices aside (turned off) and does not use them. This practice can then be carried home as well, where you may be able to establish times of the evening in which everyone "unplugs" from technology.
  2. Some of you are likely asking, "But how can I do this? I absolutely have to work on vacation." First, it is important to work as efficiently as possible prior to your vacation. A number of mindfulness and time management strategies could prove very useful in helping you reduce distractions and improve your overall efficiency.
  3. Start flexing your limit setting muscle. Give your colleagues ample notice of your unplugging time. If possible, leave a contact for colleagues to reach out to in an emergency. All of our emails have an auto response/extended absence option. Get comfortable using it! And, as you know, emails create more emails. So, if you say you're staying off email and not responding, get comfortable sticking with that too!
  4. Give yourself needed decompression and relaxation time. On average, people need two days to destress and settle into the routine of vacation. So, plan some activities specific to where you are (hiking, kayaking, cycling) that will make it virtually impossible to check emails. Give yourself the time to work through possible boredom or residual restlessness and stress before you decide whether or not it is truly necessary to plug back in.
  5. Leave your phone behind. Have someone bring a family or group phone for possible emergencies, picture taking etc., but leave that work phone in your room!
  6. Read the "old fashioned way." Yes, having several good reads on your kindle or iPad is easier and lighter than carrying paperback books. But beware, as access to that device may be a slippery slope back to "peeking" at work related matters. For this vacation, take advantage of your local public library and grab a good read.

At this point you may be thinking, alright all this unplugging is good for decreasing my stress levels but it's not great for my productivity. Well, think again. Consider for a moment how many successful people say they have come up with their best ideas while running, taking a walk or otherwise decompressing. Neurologically speaking, obsessing and wrestling with a challenge that seems to have no solution serves only to increase adrenaline and cortisol, which leads only to more stress, difficulty focusing and poorly developed solutions. Often, the best ideas come after exploring a park, hiking up a mountain, or napping in a hammock. So, be kind to yourself and those close to you, and unplug on this summer vacation!