The Best Thing You Can Do to Relax During Your Holiday Break, According to Science
As the holidays approach, so too does long-awaited time off from work. All holiday breaks, however, are not made equal. How can you use yours to bust stress and come back feeling refreshed and better than ever?
It’s as simple as cutting the cord, experts say.
“There’s a lot of medical evidence to suggest that we live in a hyper-elevated state of arousal and activated stress hormones due to being so accessible and ever-vigilant for electronic input,” Dr. David Greenfield, an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine and the founder of Connecticut’s Center for Internet and Technology Addiction, told Fortune. “I don’t think that we’re designed to be in that high, readily accessible state of arousal all the time.”
Digital detoxes, Greenfield says, can help reduce these stress levels and encourage your brain and body to unwind, even if they’re as short and simple as putting your phone away while you’re in bed or eating meals. The holidays, however, provide an opportunity for a slightly more in-depth detox.
Here’s how to unplug from stress and anxiety during your holiday vacation.
Detox in a way that works for you.
Dr. David Ballard, head of the American Psychological Association’s Center for Organizational Excellence, agrees it’s healthy to unplug—but adds that everyone detoxes differently. Some people prefer to power down completely during their time off, while others feel less stressed if they allow themselves to chip away at work while out of the office. Neither is inherently better or worse, Ballard says, so long as you’re honest about your preferences and set reasonable boundaries.
“For some people, keeping up with things, as long as they set boundaries, helps them benefit even more from the time off, so they’re able to go back and not feel overwhelmed day one back from holidays,” he says.
Make a plan.
If you set vague goals—like “stay off email”—the experts agree you’ll be unlikely to stick to them. Instead, they recommend deciding exactly how often you want to be on your phone or computer, how long you’ll let yourself stay online, and when you absolutely must sign off like during family meals or on the day of a holiday. If you need help sticking to the plan, Ballard suggests enlisting a friend or family member to keep you accountable.
Be social, IRL.
Tearing yourself away from screens can enhance the feelings of togetherness that the holidays are all about, says Heather Senior Monroe, director of program development at Newport Academy, a national adolescent and family rehab center that treats internet addiction.
“As humans, we’re hard-wired for relationships. Authentic connections are usually done face-to-face by interacting with each other,” Monroe says. “What technology does is takes us away from those authentic connections and puts us in our own isolated world, which can then make us feel more isolated and alone in a season that’s supposed to make us feel more together and tight-knit.”
Participate in activities that don’t involve a screen.
We often use technology as a crutch, or as a way to fill time we’d otherwise devote to hobbies, leisure activities or self-care. To make the most of your holiday break, Ballard suggests returning to those activities.
“You need times when you’re engaging in non-work activities that are interesting to you and stimulating and challenging,” he says.
Delete your apps (at least for now).
If you find yourself sliding back into your tech-addicted ways, Monroe suggests a simple fix: deleting your apps.
“It takes a couple more steps in between checking it,” Monroe says, during which time you might realize what you’re doing and hold off. “All your information is going to be saved, it’s just you need to re-log-on.”
Gain some perspective.
“Smartphones have been around, in their current form, for about 10 years. Humankind is 200,000 years old,” Greenfield says. “Is it possible that we’ve distorted how important this technology is to our lives?”
Keep in mind that few things are truly time-sensitive, Greenfield says. The world won’t end if you don’t check your email before your holiday break ends—or, at the very least, before your next pre-scheduled tech check-in.