One of the best stress strategies has always been to take a break. In football, it is called “half time”. In school it is called “recess”. In F1 car races it is called a “pit stop”. During our work lives, we have the “weekend” (hence the TGIF designation). The point of all these breaks is to reboot our bodies and brains, and to emerge fully recharged, ready to plunge back into our stresses.
However, the weekend does not seem to be automatically doing much to help us.
In the past, I participated in a major US study of over 1000 people, polling them on the value of their weekends. Over 80% stated that they had just as much stress on Monday mornings as they did on Friday after work. Their weekend seemed to fill with endless chores, minor repairs, errands, shopping, cleaning, and, for those with yards, yardwork. Even though they were not at their workplace, they had absolutely no stress relief just by being at home for the weekend.
Today the figures are even worse, as more people are working from home during the pandemic, and the work environment spills into the home, both in terms of space and time. So the normal principles of compartmentalization are thwarted. Until recently, most of us would get dressed in work clothes, commute to a different place, and set up our muscle memory or “game face” to handle the stresses of work. Then home would become a completely different environment, a safe harbor from the storm. By leaving the work stresses at work, and focusing on home life, we should be able to automatically feel restored. Enter the Pandemic; now we work in pajama bottoms for Zoom meetings, with work spilling all over the kitchen, dining room table, or bedside night-table. When the weekend comes, there is no physical separation to keep you from replaying all your work stresses..
That is why one of the most valuable stress strategies can be an enforced change of scenery. For those on a tight budget, an overnight camping trip could be useful. For those who like to travel farther, however, the pandemic has made it more difficult to fly, or to find places to land that are not affected by the virus.
One solution is at hand: the staycation at a nearby hotel. If you live in a densely populated area, chose one outside the city limits, in a more bucolic setting. If you live in a rural area, drive in to town for a change of pace. Often special rates apply, and, especially if one can drive instead of fly, the transportation expense is minimized. Once checked in, there are no more visible chores that need your attention, and the change of scenery forces new muscle memory, for the better. Someone else does the cooking, and you can eat in safely set up restaurants, or order room service. If you are going to use the internet, watch movies instead of doing work, and take advantage of resort activities that you can’t do at home. It does not need to be a long trip, even a short weekend stay can make a big impact on stress levels.
For medical safety during Covid-19, it is important to seek destinations that are professionally maintained, cleaned, and with full pandemic protocols. That means masks for staff and customers, hand sanitization stations, and social distancing preparations fully in place. Once restrictions are relaxed, a return to more normal travel and vacations will be possible. But for now, treat yourself to a break in your routine, even if its only for a weekend. Getting away from home won’t make all your stresses go away, but it will help restore your defenses!