Some holiday-makers claim a visit to the dentist is less stressful than having a break. Photo: Jim Rice
Picture your dream holiday. Perhaps you are sprawled on a hammock, stretched between two coconut trees with aqua-blue water and miles of golden sand blending into the horizon.
Now, back to reality. After three back-to-back, fourteen-hour days in the office, your head feels fuzzier than a late-night test pattern. You spent the previous night frantically on your so-called smartphone, working into the early hours of the morning.
At 4.45am, you were jolted by your blaring alarm clock before a four-hour flight, two-hours of customs clearance and a terrifying transfer to arrive at your holiday destination. Then, just as you settle down and you feel yourself starting to relax... Meep meep! That weapon of mass distraction demands your attention again, with multiple new messages carrying urgent missives from your workplace.
If the first scenario sounds like something out of a fantasy novel and the second is more like Ground Hog Day, at least take respite from the fact that you're not alone. A survey by American Express revealed 40 per cent of British holidaymakers find travel stress unbearable, with the same number claiming a visit to the dentist is less stressful than having a break. The Germans have even coined a word for our inability to relax beyond the confines of the office: 'Freizeitstresse', or 'free-time stress'.
A survey conducted by Expedia of over 20 countries revealed Australia wins a bronze medal in not using up our allocated annual leave. Australians on average don't use 5 days of their allocated holidays each year. Only the Italians (7 days) and Japanese (6 days) fail to use up more days. In an Olympic year, not exactly a medal we wanted to win!
Do you get the feeling that maybe, somewhere along the line, we've actually lost the plot when it comes to unwinding?
With our ultra-connected, workaholic culture, experts claim that it is impossible to be truly productive when you are 'ON' 24/7.
But relaxing and switching off does not come easy to everyone. So here are some tips to help you properly recharge over the holiday season.
Plan your break. To make your next holiday stress-free and arrive feeling refreshed rather than zapped, invest time to research locations and earmark relaxing activities to try. Pack early, keep important paperwork - including your passport and travel documents in the same place - and make sure you get a good night's sleep the night before you leave.
Leave work in the office. Don't be tempted to take incomplete reports or proposals with you, in the hopes of working on them by the beach. Be disciplined and leave work in the office. Besides, is the world really going to end if you don't do that extra board report right now?
Bury the laptop. Cure your laptop, mobile and PDA addiction by leaving it all in the office or at home and far, far away from your holiday. Don't get sucked towards the evil screen. In fact, why don't you try to wean yourself off your digital life for a week? Seriously - turn off technology and start recharging your relaxation instead – and make sure your colleagues know that you won't be checking in.
Prune your schedule. Don't jam-pack your holiday the same way you schedule your working week. Try to leave some margin and space to simply chill and have time-out by not spending every waking moment of your holiday doing things. Also, consider staying in the one place. Avoid the temptation to tick off the tourist highlights in Rome, Venice and Napoli in just three-days. Try taking it slow for a while.
Try something new. This holiday, do something totally left field to give your brain a rest from the normal day-to-day grind. Try windsurfing, paddle a kayak, recite some phrases in French, do yoga or book in for a relaxing massage.
Get up at the same time every day. A big trap on holidays is the circadian rhythm 'free running cycle', where you find yourself sleeping later each night and not waking up until late morning. Instead, go to bed and get out of bed at your regular times. If you are sleep-deprived, reward yourself by going to bed an hour earlier each night, or by having an afternoon siesta.
Learn to relax. As a reformed workaholic, I honestly had to learn to relax. I can remember watching movies and at the same time thinking (sometimes even writing) about unfinished to-do lists. Set boundaries that force you to relax and if you really want to try something new, ditch the watch and switch off all your gadgets.
Do you have problems switching off on holidays?