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July 25, 2016

8 Easy Steps to a Stress-free Vacation

by Amanda MacMillan

When life gets stressful, vacations are supposed to help us feel refreshed and rejuvenated. But why does it sometimes seem like getting away from it all is more trouble than it’s worth?

“It’s easy to get overwhelmed when planning a vacation, or to come back more stressed than when you left,” says Curtis W. Reisinger, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry at Hofstra Northwell School of Medicine at Hofstra University. And that’s a shame, since taking time off (and using it wisely) can have important mental-health benefits.

The key is to avoid common stress traps before, during and after your trip. If you’ve got a vacation coming up, here's how to make the most of it.

Before you go ...

Make sure your plans offer something for everyone. Sure, it’s easier to offload all the planning to someone else (three cheers for the spouse willing to take on that thankless job!). But getting input from everyone in the family increases the odds of satisfaction, Reisinger says. “If one person plans everything, other family members may feel forced to suffer through things they don’t want to do,” he says. “In an ideal world, vacation planning would be collaborative.”

Get organized. “Checklists can help with packing and taking care of work or personal tasks before you go, and can give you peace of mind that you didn’t forget anything. You can even download packing lists online for different types of trips.”

Make an emergency plan. “If you’re worried about being away from work or other responsibilities, make sure someone you trust knows how to reach you if -- and only if -- it’s absolutely necessary. Knowing that things are okay back home will make it easier for you to relax while you’re gone.”

Practice unplugging. “Some people can’t imagine not being glued to their phone or email, and if they do it cold turkey they could get really agitated. Instead, start slowly a few weeks before your trip. Can you check out for an hour? Can you start shutting your phone off at night? Get comfortable taking small steps first.”

When you’re there ...

Set realistic expectations. “People say, ‘I’m going to Disney World and we have to do every ride and see every show,’” Reisinger says. The problem: Life tends to throw you surprises. Make sure your schedule includes a little extra time here and there so you can accommodate changes – it’s a good way to avoid disappointment.

Create personal rules for work and screen-time. Sure, it’s ideal if you can leave work behind without a thought. But if that’s unrealistic, come up with a compromise, Reisinger suggests. “Maybe you only check email from 5 to 5:30 every afternoon in your hotel room, and not all day long on your phone.”

Try a new de-stressing technique. “Vacation is a great time to pamper yourself with a massage, or try something new, like a meditation or yoga class. Just remember: You don’t have to love every new thing or master every new skill. Think of it as an experiment, and have fun.”

Once you’re back ...

Set up a gradual re-entry. It’s best to get home at least 24 hours before you have to return to work, Reisinger says -- longer if you’re traveling internationally or have a big time change. “It will help if you can keep a low profile at work your first day back, too,” he says. “There’s nothing wrong with leaving your out-of-office message on your email for an extra day so you can have some time to catch up.”