Mental Health and Holidays: When Inactivity is not a Positive

We have just finished another Easter long weekend and have an ANZAC Day weekend looming next weekend. This weekend just gone I had some time to reflect on the time spent on holidays or long weekends and consider what correlation there is between those times of rest and impacts on mental health.

It struck me that often my most negative or down of times occurred when I had nothing to do. Put a different way: having pushed myself hard for weeks and sometimes months on end, down time that came from holidays or long weekend left me anxious that I was not doing anything or that there was something that I had not done that I should have been doing.

Despite having family that loved me and wanted to spend time with me I often eschewed their attentions and spent time either alone in my home worrying or I would go into my office and sit there and procrastinate.

Inactivity at times of rest used to cripple me. I could not be positive about that times, rather I saw them as an imposition on my work. Part of my problem, of course, was that my whole identity was focused on my work and I did not identify anything positive with doing things other than working.

Over time, I have come to embrace times of rest like those given to us by virtue of long weekends and holidays. It has not been without significant effort (I know this all sounds bizarre but you have to remember where I used to be mentally) and making sure I do these things when I have downtime:

1. Organising as many “events” as I can during the down times to ensure that I am still busy but not tempted to fall back into bad habits. Seeing family, hitting golf balls and doing work in the yard are all things I put on my agenda.
2. Doing things that I enjoy always distract me: during periods of downtime I read as much as I can because I enjoy reading.
3. If I can not organise to see them then at least I make time to talk to my family.
4. I sleep as much as possible: working in a high pressure environment often means sleep deprivation can arise so I use down time from holidays to sleep as much as I can possibly do.

Downtime can be difficult and can lead to the return to old and bad habits. Ensuring that I do things that lead to my down time actually being busy helps me avoid those habits and, by extension, negativity and anxiety that comes from those bad habits.

Now I can not wait for the next public holiday / long weekend / holiday I have: these are times to refresh and enjoy rather than procrastinate and regret. I am sad it took me so long to realise that but I intend to make the most of any downtime in the future.

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