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When holidays are hell

Date

Performance Matters

Andrew May is a performance coach who has spent the past 15 years working with elite sportspeople.

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Some holiday-makers claim a visit to the dentist is less stressful than having a break.

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?

10 comments so far

  • I find holidays stressful. Much prefer working. But the above pointers are good. It really is important to not work on office work. It's not productive and then you feel like you've over-given and haven't rested.

    Commenter
    Zebbedy
    Date and time
    April 10, 2012, 3:50PM
    • As I like to change jobs regularly, I either end a job before a major holiday or if going for a new role pre agree an absence for the period of a holiday.

      This leads to no work phone, no contact with work (or no work) and generally stress free. The key to the strategy is having faith (and some money aside) that there will be a job on return.

      As I ve been doing it for 10 years (every second year is a amajor holiday on average) its still working

      Commenter
      Simple Plan
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      April 10, 2012, 4:17PM
      • The key is to relax - don't plan things out too much (but have some planning to avoid last-minute rushes), and don't do too much. Sometimes it's nice just to do a few things a day rather than rushing about madly trying to do everything.

        Commenter
        Bob
        Date and time
        April 10, 2012, 7:04PM
        • What I don't understand is why is the bloke in the picture using a 10 year old Blackberry?

          Commenter
          Anonymous
          Location
          behind a proxy
          Date and time
          April 11, 2012, 11:16AM
          • Or you could just practise some self-discipline and take your laptop and phone with you, but set them to manually update and only check them once or twice a day.

            If you don't have enough self-control to avoid compulsively checking in with work, maybe you should be spending your holiday working on that instead.

            Commenter
            DM
            Date and time
            April 11, 2012, 11:31AM
            • Saving one week of your annual leave time each year means that when you are retrenched you will receive a payout which will help with the mortgage. I did this when working for a large bank. Eventually they decided that at 50 I was too old to work but they only paid out 60 cents in the dollar.

              Commenter
              Pietro
              Location
              Lilydale
              Date and time
              April 11, 2012, 11:46AM
              • I think many companies have cottoned onto this scheme, and in many new contracts they are now putting expiry dates on annual leave. If you don't use your annual leave days within 2 years of the date they were accrued, they expire.

                Good incentive to get going, recharge and come back more productive than before!

                Commenter
                Michele
                Date and time
                April 12, 2012, 2:05PM
            • I find that holidays lack enough stress for me, end up far too relaxed and a little bit bored.

              But I love a short holiday...too long is bad unless I can find something stimulating to do.

              Commenter
              Flingebunt
              Location
              Brisbane
              Date and time
              April 11, 2012, 2:01PM
              • Always save leave! It's the only protection you have these days if you do get the chop. Knowing that you have and extra month or two severance pay can help reduce stress, even if you never need it. In which case you can have a longer break and really forget about the office!

                Commenter
                Ess
                Location
                Sitting down, facing front
                Date and time
                April 11, 2012, 2:45PM
                • We just went on a holiday with a big group of people, most we did not know well. But one of the people we did know well became an absolute control freak who did not know when to stop! She was over the top go go go, always checking in with everyone as to how their day was, what did they buy, where did they go ete etc. Then when we decided that we wanted time together and to actually relax, she lost it, got angry with us, poisoned the rest of the group with nasty gossip about us not wanting to be with them....and
                  tried to ruin our holiday! It was awful! We were quite relaxed but this woman was a nightmare. Never again, and never again with her freaky friends!

                  Commenter
                  Fdee
                  Location
                  NSW
                  Date and time
                  April 12, 2012, 6:09PM

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