A micro-break may be all you need this year!
Updated: Jul 25
I used to love my 2 week holidays - until both the coronavirus, and a diabetic and now blind dog brought those to an abrupt stop 2 years ago. However, what I am able to do, and have found have had a hugely beneficial impact on my wellbeing is instead divert the holiday fund into a micro-break...a weekend here, a few nights out there...little and often seems to be working well for me right now.
Micro-break - Macro benefits?
While research specifically on workplace performance and holiday is scarce, when it comes to holidays and wellbeing, taking a break is associated with:
- A healthier overall lifestyle (Taurimi et al, 1998)
- Lower risk of heart attack (Gump & Matthews 2000)
- Higher self -reported wellbeing (DeBloom, 2013)
- A decline in Anti-depressant use (Hartig, 2013)
However that vacation does not necessarily need to be two weeks in the sun…in fact, a study by Nawjin et al in 2013 found that when an annual vacation was planned, people reported feeling more stressed, and many studies have found that the start of a long holiday is often affected by low level stressors such as headaches or stomach upset. DeBloom (2015) suggest this is because it is like a car crunching down from 5th to 1st gear.
Within the recent past – notably the last 2 years, the pandemic has curtailed our vacation options, but perhaps opened us up to local options.
Benefits of staycations
There is certainly much to be said for staycations – they require less planning (the language, culture, currency and cuisine remain familiar); you might be able to bring your furry friends; and although a drive from London to Edinburgh for example may take 8.5 hours, the flight (when you include airport check ins and any passport control requirements and the like) can equal around the same…and your view is often far less interesting.
While, admittedly, I did once meet up with a local friend at Penang airport, when we hadn’t been able to arrange the 30 minute drive to each others’ houses, another beautiful thing about a road (or coach or train) trip is the opportunity to call on long distance pals along the way…if you’re going to need to take a rest stop – perhaps that stop can be at their house.
And I don’t mention the importance of friendships lightly – not only has the Pandemic thrown into perspective our values and priorities, but Seligman, founder of Positive Psychology firmly suggests that while healthy relationships don’t guarantee a happy life – a happy life is not often found without them. …and if you’re in the UK, perhaps they might even be able to join you for an evening!
Mini adventure, Maximum improvements
The benefits of a micro-adventure on your doorstep must also not be underestimated. A study by Lleras and Ariga (2011) found that taking short breaks significantly improved participants’ focus on a long task because the break tackled what Lleras called “vigilance decrement” – the reduction in one’s attention resources.
In 2016 Randolph found employees who built breaks into their day performed better than those who didn’t, and Burchard (2017) suggested that a way to improve our overall ability to focus was to offer ourselves a mental palette cleanse between tasks (eg. a quick walk, or a splash of water on the face). These breaks did not need to be long, just something that enables a break in thinking. A micro-adventure can offer the same. Walking a different route can stimulate curiosity; finding a new appreciation of something we perhaps had missed before can elicit positive feelings associated with gratitude; and without the often hidden costs of a long break, you might also find there is less stress on your wallet which in turn reduces the stress in your head.
Another interesting finding when it comes to the benefits of the mini break comes from a 1978 piece of research by Brickman which is still quoted today – our brain and body’s ability to adapt often means that size (or length) really doesn’t matter! Brickman found that lottery winners levels of happiness were not significantly higher than those who did NOT will the lottery after a year had passed suggesting that even if something is highly pleasurable for a while, we soon adapt. As such, it would seem that a short weekend break (especially when you include the practical benefits of cost, relationships, planning and time) is likely to give us the same boost as as two weeks in the sun.
Ultimately, when it comes to boosting your wellbeing, there are 2 popular self-help or socially prescribed ways to take action:
1. Buffer the effects of stress by engaging in things that boost your wellbeing so that lower levels of cortisol are produced under pressure.
2. Restoring a state of equanimity (calm) faster because an element of stress is unavoidable, and indeed is sometimes essential for high performance).
both help you find the headspace to take effective action
Activities such as:
c. Seeing friends
d. Stroking a pet
e. Mindful meditation
f. Getting the right amount of sleep for you
g. Engaging with nature
…all have proven benefits in all three of the elements above
It is certainly arguable that “Little and often” is likely to be more effective in keeping your energy tank topped up compared with few and far between:
- the former doesn’t bring with it the extra pressure before the event nor does it exert extra pressure and expectation on it)
- a break from routine is likely to give our brains a positive boost of energy through stimulating curiosity
- the benefits of nature for us biophilic humans are huge (Vitamin D and serotonin production through sunlight, the calming and rejuvenating effects of forest bathing, or the physical benefits of a walk in the fresh air)
- and the potential for more time with friends (faraway and furry)
…are just a few of the reasons why.
10 ways to boost your wellbeing through a micro-break
Seligman outlined 24 values (Values In Action, Character Strengths) which he associated with higher levels of happiness when we engage with them, 10 of them are outlined here:
- Curiosity: Once you’ve got the place to safely rest your head – let adventure guide you. The release from planning and expectation can give you a sense of freedom that everyday life does not normally allow.
- Love: Book a break with friends!! Then spend your evenings catching up, sharing experiences and your days making new memories – you don’t even need your socials because the people you love most are right there with you!
- Creativity: Try out a mini-break which enables you to get active – golf, surfing, pony trekking or hiking…the best part about doing that on holiday is that you don’t need to continue with it at home if you don’t want to!!
- Appreciation of Beauty: When walking a different route take a moment to recognise and perhaps photograph something from a different angle. Look for beauty that you may have otherwise overlooked on a regular path.
- Perspective: Go “off grid”, or alternatively take yourself to a place where you can embrace the vastness and beauty of nature. Not only are there likely to be wonderful walks and trails, but in taking in your environment it might help clear that headspace and let you filter through what’s really important.
- Love of Learning: Take a moment to read about an historical point of interest and decide for yourself what the power of the place is.
- Empathy: In a new environment, observe the behaviours without judgment of those living there, and reflect on what this teaches you about different lifestyle choices and needs (especially interesting when taking a break in an environment different to your natural one eg pet-friendly glamping v’s your life in the city)
- Gratitude: Play a game of “thank you steps” when you are exploring, say “thank you” with each step – this is likely to elicit a sense of playfulness which, as adults, we can often lose.
- Bravery: Always fancied yourself as a writer or a creator – take the time and take the plunge – you might produce the next best seller, or you might decide there are other things you prefer to do…but often trying to form a new habit is easiest done in a place where the old habits are not so associated.
- Humour: Laughter produces endorphins, the body’s natural pain killers – and the best thing about laughing on holiday, is if you delete the pics, what happened on your mini-break stays on your mini-break
Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author with a specialty in the "how to take action", rather than just giving explanation and advice. Listen to her podcast Retrain Your Brain here; and catch her practical masterclasses Psych Back to Basics on DisruptiveTV & Energy Top Up for resilience. For self development tools based within positive psychology: click Her YouTube Channel . Twitter/IG @draudreyt