Looking forward to your annual holiday? Go ahead, revel in that feeling of anticipation, because it’s making you happier. A 2010 Dutch study published in the journal Applied Research in Quality of Life showed that just the thought of an upcoming holiday makes people feel happier, compared with those who didn’t have a holiday planned.
Surprisingly, the holiday itself is not an instant pass to happiness. Anyone who has ever been on a trip plagued by problems (car broke down, kids got sick, hotel was lousy and so on) can attest to that. In order to ride a wave of post-vacation bliss, lasting about two weeks, the study found that holiday-goers needed to have had a “very relaxing” time away. So how do you minimise holiday stress, have a “very relaxing” time and make the most of your vacation?
Travel writer Louise Southerden suggests trying to get into relaxation mode even before you arrive at your destination. “If you have that holiday mindset from the moment you walk out your front door, then you’re less likely to be frustrated by all the logistical obstacles that can get in your way,” she says.
Prepare and research (but not too much)
Southerden says we should pack well ahead of time and arrive at airports early so we’re not stressed and frantic. She recommends:
• packing snacks in case there are delays or shops are shut when you arrive;
• learning a few local phrases;
• researching the top three things you want to do at your destination (without overdoing it and losing spontaneity);
• asking locals, rather than doing a Google search, for information.
Go somewhere green
“We are connected to the natural world and for our psychological health and well-being we need to interact with the natural world regularly in order to be fully well,” says ecopsychologist Eric Brymer from Queensland University of Technology. And you don’t even need to go on a gruelling hike through the wilderness. Having a lazy day at the beach or pottering around in the garden is enough to unlock the benefits. Brymer says being in nature teaches us to let go. “The more we live in a controlled environment, the less comfortable we are when we remove those boundaries that we put around ourselves,” he says. He suggests doing something adventurous and out of the ordinary while on vacation, such as climbing a tree or kayaking. Experiencing and respecting the unpredictability of the natural world puts life into perspective, he says.
Don’t bring your everyday, urban environment with you on holidays, says Brymer. Limit your access to phones, tablets, or electronic devices so you’re fully present in the moment. He says mindfulness creates an opportunity to relieve stress and anxiety. “It could be lying on the beach and just absorbing the sun and the sea,” he says. “It could be all sorts of things, but you need to be fully engaged in that experience.”
Eat (healthily), drink (moderately) and be merry
While you might be tempted to let go of all will power and gorge on mojitos and burgers, think again. “Put simply, if you eat well, you feel better,” says nutritionist Kristen Beck. “Highly processed foods that contain lots of added sugars, fat and salt can leave you feeling tired and can even add to your stress levels.” She recommends eating plenty of vegetables, fresh fruit, fish, lean meat, seeds, nuts and eggs and drinking more water to avoid dehydration (which means moderating alcohol and caffeine intake). “Give your body the foods and nutrients it needs and you will feel a whole lot better at the end.”
Plan more holidays
Researchers from the Dutch study found the length of the holiday doesn’t matter when it comes to getting a buzz of pleasure. So if you can’t take long periods off work, opt for smaller trips throughout the year instead, and feel happier all year round.
This article first appeared on ‘Daily Life’ on 15 December 2013.