Ahhh, holidays. The chance to take a break from the everyday stresses of life and just relax (cue: audible sighs of relaxation). It's a wonderful aspect of the human experience, isn't it? Spending time in the sun, sand and surf, getting a good healthy dose of me-time. No one ever really thinks of holidays as an anxiety-inducing, unable-to-relax, wound-up-tighter-than-a-cuckoo-clock experience do they? Well unfortunately for some (me) holidays are not as relaxing as they are supposed to be.
Weird isn't it? The actual act of being on holiday can induce horrible and debilitating anxiety. You'd think getting away from the stress of everyday life, away from schedules, plans and almost time itself would alleviate the anxiety not increase it. But in fact, for me in particular, holidays are often more stressful than relaxing.
Recently, my family and I took a ten day getaway to the Nelson area, our chance to finally take a summer break. Luckily for us, the weather was fantastic, the water was warm and our house was right on the beach. The perfect formula for a chilled out family vacay. Too bad most of the time I was too tense and wound up to completely enjoy the experience. Now, like me, you are probably thinking, "Why would she be anxious?". Well, after a good amount of time spent in self-reflection I think I can confidently say why.
I am a planner. I like to know what my day entails, what food I am going to eat and tasks that I have to complete. I like to feel like I am in control of what I can control. This trait has come from years of unexpected events and situations that have been out of my control (earthquakes, depression, IBS etc.), so I have tried to make myself as comfortable as possible by controlling my day and hopefully the outcome of my day. Not that I am so strict in my control that I will freak out if something changes, (I can go with the flow, dude) but just enough to prevent added stress in my life. On holiday, all plans and schedules go out the window. What time do I get out of bed? Whenever you feel like it. What time is lunch? Whenever you get hungry. What's for dinner? Who knows.
This lack of structure caused me to feel out of control. I didn't know what to do with myself. Because there wasn't much to do, I spent a good chunk of my holiday trying to dissect my mind, asking myself why I am feeling this way, feeling like there is something seriously wrong with me for not being able to just let go and enjoy myself. Which in turn, meant I wasn't able to completely let go and enjoy myself. Talk about a destructive cycle. I became so anxious that no amount of "I'm okay", "There is nothing to be afraid of", deep diaphragmatic breathing or "Just relax, dummy" could calm me down.
However, I will mention that although my anxiety was a pretty large part of the holiday, I did have a few moments where I was able to enjoy myself and relax. Mostly, this happened when I was distracted and doing an activity that didn't require thinking like kayaking, walking or chatting with someone I randomly met on the beach. During these moments, I wasn't focusing on myself and was instead focused on what was going on around me and therefore felt a lot more calm and chilled out. I have found that sometimes that is what I need to relax. I need to be doing something or talking to someone and not analysing every thought and action I have made in order to be at peace.
And the truth is, sometimes this is the only way you can deal with anxiety; by distracting yourself. By doing something you enjoy (preferably physical activity) that gets your mind off of yourself and focused on what you are doing. Allowing your mind to switch off and just be is one of the best and easiest ways to alleviate really horrible anxiety. Distract yourself to enjoy yourself (cue: reverent applause and slideshow of assorted holiday pics).