I recently took myself off on a last minute holiday to a Greek island (hence the break in blogging). I was very grateful for the Mediterranean sunshine, time spent with my partner, and above all a chance to reflect. It always amazes me how much we Northern Europeans look forward to our holidays in the sun! (One wonders if those fortunate enough to live in sunny climates pine for snow and drizzle in the same way)?
The philosopher, Alain de Botton, in his book ‘The Art of Travel’ says, “If our lives are dominated by the search for happiness then perhaps few activities reveal as much about this quest than our travels”. It is true that for many people, there is something about the allure of a week in the sun, which promises us guaranteed happiness and carefree relaxation. We imagine ourselves soaking up rays, sipping cocktails, and going on adventurous excursions. We picture our ‘holiday selves’ as chilled out, easygoing, and fun loving (often wearing shorts and bikinis we wouldn’t dare to be seen in at home – or is that just me)!?
Something about the distance of our travels, the ‘being somewhere far from home’ alludes to our being removed from and separate to our everyday lives, and consequently to our troubles. However, deep down we know that the change in scenery is only external. Alain de Botton describes a moment in Barbados, when, on the first morning of his holiday he sat on the beautiful beach and began to notice a number of symptoms occurring to him at once; a sore throat he had developed on the flight began to throb, and a nagging worry about a work colleague caused his head to ache. “A momentous but until then overlooked fact was making its first appearance: that I had inadvertently brought myself with me to the island.”
Although the rest and change that a holiday brings is no doubt good for our health, it is helpful remember that our thoughts will still be with us, and no amount of sunshine can distract us from ourselves. Our anxieties risk taking over unless we can learn to manage our thoughts. In the past, like many people I have found myself critiquing my life whilst away on holiday, and doubts and worries creeping up on me at the very moment I want to forget about it all and relax. I have come back home full of new plans and ideas for myself (improve my work/life balance, get fit, see friends more, etc etc). However, a bit like the annual failed new year’s resolutions, these changes have failed to materialise once I’m back to the old routine.
This was the first holiday I’ve had since my burnout and since I have been learning to practise mindfulness, and so I decided to try and apply this so that this holiday would be a different experience to those I’ve had in the past. For example, I practised focusing on things like body scanning, and noticing and appreciating all the unfamiliar sights, smells, tastes and sounds around me to keep my mind in the present moment. This supported me to appreciate and feel gratitude for the experiences I was having, and also encouraged my mind to stay in the present moment rather than worrying about the future or the past. I’m not saying it worked 100% of the time, but with practise I did notice I was able to have longer and longer periods of time without engaging with worries or anxieties.
Now that I’m back and the tan is starting to peel, I am hoping that my ‘holiday self’ can in fact be my normal self, and I can learn to be happier on my everyday journeys.