‘Overworked’, ‘burnt out’, ‘super stressed’, ‘under appreciated’ and just plain exhausted.
These are comments that we, at Coupleworks, regularly hear from our clients.
Often these phrases are mentioned as casual asides to the more critical issues that are brought to the therapy.
One constant theme in the counselling room when listening to these weary descriptions of anxiety, stress and despondency, is the seemingly distorted work/life balance experienced by so many clients juggling home, career and relationships.
The answer to the question of whether we actually need holiday breaks is a resounding yes.
But at this time of year with a flurry of ads and media suggestions of glorious sounding holidays, I often hear the same refrains.
“I’m just too busy to take a break”
“This is a very pressured time of year”
‘My work needs me there just now‘
‘I’m fearful of leaving the workplace even for a short time’
These are comments that need to be challenged in therapy so that we can, together, make sense of what’s going on behind what is sometimes clearly a defence mechanism.
Let’s stop and really get to grips with this.
Post pandemic, many of us have hardly travelled further than our own locality. There had been just one main story in town and, as a result, our identities had been severely compromised.
Normally we would connect with differing parts of ourselves at different events – wherever we are – if we are at home, working, with family, with friendship groups, in the pub, gym or just poodling round the shops we don’t bring the same sides of ourselves to all our interactions.
The last couple of years has restricted so many of these facets of everyday life, and now again we have options that were shut off for seemingly endless months.
Yet it can be hard to challenge the barriers that so many clients will raise when asked about taking a break from their everyday life. It’s come to feel like a risk to step out of the predictable safety bubble and allow a neglected part of themselves to take over.
Some high achievers, though unwilling to admit it, become addicted to the hectic pace of the workplace and fear the vacuum that they imagine would result as a withdrawal of their dependence on the work which has come to define them.
They secretly worry how they will deal without the adrenaline and busyness of their schedules.
A time of quiet can look empty and scary.
This relentless routine can so easily lead to burnout and future mental health issues. It also causes huge problems when partners and families feel neglected and sidelined.
For positive mental health, whatever your job or responsibilities, it’s enormously restorative to get a safe space in the work/life balance.
Our brains become programmed to sort out the regular daily patterns and issues of everyday life. Our cognitive functions get complacent through repetitive and predictable problem solving. We can feel comfortable with the ‘known’ rituals. Habits can provide feelings of safety.
A holiday should be an opportunity to reset and refresh these patterns, and engage with more visceral, sensory sensations. Give that brain a holiday break.
Historically the word ‘vacation’ defines the concept of vacating our normal lifestyle for a while, by being exposed to new things and is built into almost all cultures starting with the Romans who seem to be at the forefront of so many traditions, tho not all of their lifestyle choices were quite so healthy for the general public.
Even that innovator of the great British holiday, Thomas Cook, began his career with a train trip costing one shilling, carrying 500 souls to a Temperance Meeting.
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The first holiday breaks were built round observing historic religious occasions. This gave even the poorer workers a chance to celebrate age old customs with the food, drink, stories and costumes traditionally passed down through generations.
These rituals anchored us to our ancestors and gave a sense of belonging, and in many cases they still do.
As one client said fondly, while reminiscing about her mother, ‘she had her faults, but she kept the feasts’.
Holidays should not be just restricted to those with the income to make lavish plans. A break from routine can be as simple as a camping trip, exploring a new city or a house swap.
The important part is time.
Time to think in a different way without the clutter of repetitive day-to-day distractions.
Time to look at different surroundings and with a different schedule.
Time to embrace change.
And importantly there should be a break with the connectivity of our often relentless link to screen life. This means Time to engage with others and maybe even a chance to find more creative parts of ourselves.
For couples it can be a real boost to a relationship to get away from family life and rediscover something of what connected them before they became entrenched in caring for others.
If at all possible, try to find a way to manage childcare through friends, family or a reciprocal arrangement with other parents, and escape for a short time into being the people you first fell in love with when life was more playful and carefree.
A regular break together outside the distractions of home gives a chance to experience quiet connection and is an important ingredient in keeping couple closeness alive, it can really refresh a tired relationship.
Do we really need holidays? No need to phone a friend, the answer again is yes, yes and absolutely yes