We all look forward to our holidays. By November of each year (in the Southern Hemisphere) we are counting the days till summer holidays are upon us. In fact, many people report that they feel energised all year until November when suddenly fatigue hits and desperation for a holiday break becomes paramount.
With the best laid plans and destinations, our idyllic holidays then rush past in a flash and within a few days of resuming work we are back to square one – stressed and busy as usual. Did the holiday actually achieve anything in terms of relieving stress and anxiety?
In January 2016, I had the privilege of being a guest speaker on Explorer of the Seas – a huge ocean liner with every luxury you could dream of. I delivered 5 presentations and after each one there was queue of holiday makers wanting to speak to me. They were frustrated and confused. They asked me:
- “How come I am on holiday, on a luxury cruise, and yet I still feel worried?”
- “I believed that boarding this magnificent ship would have relieved my anxiety and yet I still cannot sleep.”
- “How do I switch off and enjoy myself?”
The answer of course is that it is not where we are that matters but where our head is at. The basic premise of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is that it is not an event but what we tell ourselves about an event that results in a positive or negative thought. Moreover, if you have had anxious behaviours like poor sleep patterns, just being on a fancy ship will not change anything. Active work needs to be done to change the habitual patterns. Practically this means practicing relevant CBT tools over a minimum of 90 days.
I have worked with hundreds of highly successful business people who work long hours 7 days a week. They commonly have the belief that it is OK to work like crazy and then every 3 months have a break. But like those people I met on Explorer of the Seas, going away to an exotic island just does not cut it. They may feel different for a short while but quickly revert to the old feelings of stress once work resumes because they have not altered their thoughts or practised new behaviours.
The key to stress management is not to go on a holiday but to take a little holiday in your mind and in your day – every day. Practicing 20 minutes of meditation or formal mindfulness every day will reduce stress. Exercising or playing sport regularly each week is a fantastic break. Socialising with friends weekly acts a wonderful circuit breaker from busy work schedules.
The other key to anxiety management is to practice thinking helpful thoughts every day. Learning to switch off negative thoughts and changing to helpful thoughts not only keeps you calm but ensures that you are able to exercise self-leadership and take control of your mind.
When you are regularly utilising tools like mindfulness, exercise and socialising, your stress build up will be minimal and manageable. When you take charge of your thoughts, your environment becomes meaningless because you are capable of thinking right wherever you are.
In short – do not rely on an amazing holiday to manage your stress. Work on your thoughts and behaviours and you will be able to enjoy every day of the year. A cruise or exotic holiday will just be an added bonus!