In our increasingly 'switched on' lives, it can be difficult to take a proper break and switch off during the holidays. The summer is an important time to spend with family and friends, soaking up mood-boosting sunshine, enjoying fresh air and exercise, and getting plenty of rest to recharge your mental wellbeing. We asked RSCPP therapists for their advice on how to really give your mental health a boost over the summer holidays.
"The purpose of holidays is the reduction and change of our everyday activities. It's a way to recharge our batteries and return refreshed to our daily life," says Chartered Psychologist Kyriaki Iordanidou.
"A good way to maximise the benefits of your holidays is to use your time based on your needs," she adds. It sounds simple, but it's often easy to get caught up in other people's plans during the holidays, and forget to focus on what you really want or need for your own wellbeing and enjoyment.
"Ask yourself what it is that you need or would like to do, experience, feel, or taste, and create the opportunities for this to happen," Kiki says.
At the same time, however, the holidays can also be a useful time to think about ways of bringing more pleasure and relaxation into your normal, everyday life. "It may help to find things you usually enjoy on holiday, which you'd like to incorporate more of into your daily life in general," says Registered Counsellor Annabelle Boyes.
"For example, it could be that you enjoy spending more time going for walks, or that you like spending more time with your partner. Going away usually gives you more time for fun activities and things you don't usually do," she adds.
Of course, it's probably not possible to incorporate sailing around the Greek islands or going on safari into your normal routine, but there will be plenty of things you enjoy during your time off that could become more regular features of your life. Annabelle suggests activities like going to a yoga class, signing up for a cookery course, or even something as simple as making more quality time to spend with your partner, family and friends.
While it's important to make the holidays a time to relax and prioritise your own needs, Registered Psychologist Sameena Akbar says it's also important to be aware of your expectations of the holidays. "Are you imagining quiet time by the pool when the reality may be you spend your time trying to entertain a grumpy toddler?" she says.
"Learning to be aware of your expectations means you can hold them a little more lightly and accept the reality of where you are in your life. Holidays can also be stressful times when we spend intense periods of time with family and friends in a way that we don't normally do, and this can lead to some tricky situations, thoughts and feelings. Bear in mind that not having a perfect holiday isn't the end of the world, and that it's equally important to take time out for yourself during the rest of the year when expectations can be less high."
Sameena adds: "Also, be aware that it can take a while to wind down into holiday mode. You might think you will feel great the second you are by the beach, but your mind may still be racing with thoughts about all the things going on at home. Allow yourself a little time to unwind slowly."
It's also worth planning ahead for any of the less enjoyable activities the summer holidays may have in store. "Consider the aspects of your holiday that you think you may find challenging, for example spending more time with your in-laws," Annabelle suggests.
"In order to prepare yourself, think about scenarios that may present themselves, and how you could respond to these situations. Being prepared can help to alleviate anxiety and stress."
Similarly, if you're stressed about keeping the children entertained all summer, read our therapists' advice on managing school holiday tensions and pressures.
Whatever's in store for your summer holiday, Sameena also recommends using it as a time to practise mindfulness, by being in the present moment without judging it. "There are really good apps you can get on your phone, and just ten minutes a day is enough," she says.
"But it doesn't even have to be so formal; if you find yourself getting caught up with thoughts and feelings, and it seems like you are not really 'present', just push your feet into the floor, take a few deep breaths and then notice five things you can see and hear, naming them silently in your head. It's surprising how much difference this can make to getting you out of your head and into your holiday."
On a similar note, she says, try taking a break from the constant demands of modern technology. "Turn your phone off or only check messages or emails at allocated times. If your phone has all your music or videos on, but you want some time away from the outside world, then switch it to airplane mode," Sameena suggests.
"Checking your phone for texts, email, tweets and status updates may have become an automatic habit that stops you from really being in the moment, plus you are much more likely to come up with a good work idea or solution to a problem when you are not glued to your phone, but when your mind is at rest."