Spring into Action! Part 2

cropped-shutterstock_238446949.jpgWe’re full swing into spring and if you still haven’t booked yourself a mini-break then Dr Saul Hillman’s wise words may give you the nudge you need! In part 2 of our ‘Spring into Action’ mini-series Saul explains why our relationships benefit from a get-away and he shares some top tips on how to get the most (for longer) from your spring break, enjoy!

“Given that most people go on breaks with family or friends, there is a great benefit to bonding, communication and solidarity. What we do on a short break is create a ‘shared experience’ with those we are with and this again enhances connections and relationships. When we are on holiday, we will invariably be removed from ordinary daily routines (work, chores, school, family politics, technology) and instead are able to focus upon something different, open up new experiences and broaden horizons.

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“Stress is unavoidable and takes its toll at so many levels. Some of these are more obvious such as becoming more irritable, sleeping worse, or more prone to feeling anxious about events that would normally not phase us. However, many of the symptoms of stress are more silent and may be taking their toll in more subtle ways. Our bodies are expert in maintaining an internal homeostasis but we are often very slow in knowing how to manage stress levels.

“For this reason, short regular breaks are a huge tonic to our mental health given that they offer us time to relax, unwind and step away from our entangled and often routine lives. In the same way that children respond to incentives and rewards, adults are no different, and having something like a spring break, whether to a holiday park, a city break, a cottage holiday, or an activity-based vacation, we are likely to find the ingredients that will help us switch off and recharge.

“We often leave long periods between holidays when short breaks can be a great boost given how the benefits of a holiday wane over time, and we need the time to unwind and destress. There are other things that we can do in order to ensure that the effects from these breaks are strong.

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Dr Saul Hillman’s Top Tips for you Spring Break… Psychologist, Counsellor & Therapist at the Belsize Health Clinic in Belsize Park, North London.

1. Detach and Switch off – in an increasingly connected world where our time spent on phones and devices is so common place, this perhaps could be the greatest sacrifice, if we left our phone and refrained from checking and responding to emails and other messages, or engaging in any social media. Though this may seem trivial, it is acknowledged to have become a growing addiction and barrier to relationships.

2. Engaging outside – most positive breaks will and should involve some engagement with the natural habitat, whether this is an outdoor activity or pursuit, or something far more mindful which allows one to be in nature.

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3. Slow pace – in order to counter the lives that most of us normally lead, don’t feel the pressure to make your break too packed or structured. It is always helpful to allow breathing space which again can allow us to relax, recalibrate and reinvigorate before we return to our typical lives.

4. Plan breaks in advance – as well as being able to obtain bargains in advance, it will undoubtedly be an incentive to have short breaks to look forward to.

5. Don’t just photograph, film with your senses – we are spoiled nowadays for having ways of capturing our lives on camera, but consider reflecting in a more mindful way whilst drinking up the experience.

6. Realistic expectations – accept breaks for what they are and that they may still have some challenges and dips. Of course, breaks are bound to bring with them stresses, whether related to travel, illness, interpersonal dynamics, or so much else, which may diminish the quality of the experience.

7. Don’t be selfless – even if you are holidaying with family or friends, remember it is okay to sometimes say ‘no’ in order to ensure that the holiday is working for you. If you overcommit yourself, you may feel dissatisfied, tired or overwhelmed. Do what works for you.

Dr Saul Hillman (PhD, BACP, GHR) psychologist, counsellor & therapist

SPRING INTO ACTION! PART 1

So why is a spring break so good for us? We put the question to Dr Saul Hillman, psychologist, counsellor & therapist at the Belsize Health Clinic in Belsize Park, North London. In the first of this two-part mini-series, Saul explains why a short-break is particularly good to take at this time of year.

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“Most of us are wrapped up in frantic lifestyles with multiple layers, competing demands and limited rewards on a day to day basis.  Whilst we may simply get used to this sort of lifestyle and don’t necessarily always notice the stresses in our body or state of mind, the effects do build up, and we often need to step back, observe and tweak our lifestyle in order to make sure the balance has not gone awry.

“Two large studies confirm this and indicate that taking regular breaks and vacations reduces risk of health problems including cardiovascular disease.  Further research at a more superficial level reports that people have more energy, higher degrees of life satisfaction and have fewer general health complaints after going away.

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“At this time of the year, with the onset of spring and clocks going forward, we can benefit from longer and lighter evenings. There are strong reasons why a break may be a good move and may also have many positive health benefits.  For more than one in ten people in the UK, the winter and darker months between November and March can be challenging to varying degrees with less natural light, together with a range of symptoms that often get clustered together under terms such as ‘Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)’ or ‘Winter Blues’.  In essence, the reduced natural light stimulates the release of serotonin, which results in the feelings that we commonly associate with depression.

“On top of this, given that many people have also just left behind a very intense and financially challenging period of Christmas, the early months from January to March can be the most psychologically challenging. Often, we are faced with realities not always matching up to our expectations.

“Short breaks have the potential to release us from the stress cycle in our lives.  When we get away, we remove ourselves from the actual physical location of our everyday life, the demands and rituals that pervade it and of course that state of hypervigilance which comes from the busy nature of our lives.

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“As we all know and experience, a break can help by interrupting this pattern, defuse any lingering tensions, so that we can also gain a new perspective on what is important in our lives and what we maybe need to tap into more.  So many studies support the benefits from taking vacations given how they buffer the stress from our work and home lives.”

Dr Saul Hillman (PhD, BACP, GHR) psychologist, counsellor & therapist

In part 2, Saul shares his top tips on making your short break work harder and better for you, so you feel de-stressed for longer – coming at the end of April!