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#52 of 52 Ways to Wellbeing – Use your holidays well

Positive pathways in the brain, the importance of neural networksIt’s about to be holiday time for many. So, it’s fitting that the final of 52 Ways to Wellbeing urges you to use your holidays well. I’ll show you why and give you tips for how.

I’ve adapted it from a chapter of a book I’m writing at the moment, Ten Ways to Build a Brilliant Brain. The chapter is the final one, Relax and Enjoy Yourself. It’s very important and the thing I’m most guilty of ignoring. I’m by nature a serious person, anxious and highly-driven, someone who doesn’t relax easily and tends towards working too hard. But before writing this blog post, I did practise what I’m preaching: I got a home-baked chocolate crinkle cookie and half a piece of also home-baked (just saying) panforte and a cup of coffee, and spent 15 minutes having banter online with my brother-in-law. And felt all the better for it. I’m now surrounded by the aroma of a relaxing oil from The White Company and the sound of The Pogues while I write this message to you.

My message, as with all my 52 Ways to Wellbeing, is for all ages.

Use your holidays well

If you treat your brain and the rest of your body well during weekends and holidays, you’ll be able to work so much better afterwards. You’ll improve physical health, mental health and sleep. Everything benefits from a holiday. This year, more than ever, we need this end of year break from routine and hard work. And many of you don’t even know when the break will start or when it will end, what with the UK Government and head teachers being under pressure to shut schools early / not shut schools early / open them later / not open them later / tell us we can see our families but shouldn’t see our families

Anyway, whenever it comes and however long it is, you need it and you need to use it well.

Why?

  • You’ve worked hard, had a tough year  – you need a rest for your mind
  • You’ve done your best in difficult circumstances – you deserve a reward
  • COVID 19 isn’t over yet – you need to recharge your batteries and build strength for the next few months
  • It’s winter – we are wired to slow down, sleep more, eat more, curl up in the warmth
  • Your body will work better if you look after it
  • Your brain will work better if you look after it

Top tips for using the holiday well:

Some of these apply more to adults and others more to school students but most apply to ALL ages!

  • Don’t let schoolwork wreck your holiday. Make a note of anything you’re meant to do and decide when to do it. (Teenagers, tell your parents so they also know.) Put it out of sight till you need it.
  • Start the holiday with a tidy bedroom / house/ kitchen / any room you’re going to use. So, Day One is a clean-up day. Just channel your inner Marie Kondo!
  • Give yourself one or two holiday projects – not too many, though. Maybe you’ll keep a diary; or learn a new skill; visit a local tourist attraction; grow seeds; do baking; start a hobby. Don’t set big targets and do keep it fun!
  • Have healthy sleep habits. This is so important that I’ve added tips below.
  • Keep in touch with friends. If you’re allowed to meet outside, do so, following whatever social distancing rules apply. But otherwise, organise get-togethers online. As you’ll know by know, these can be exhausting, so keep them short; think about a quiz or other game; maybe a focus such as showing a cake you’ve each just baked. Make sure someone isn’t being left out (but if they want to be alone, let them be!) Just make sure you keep communication open between yourself and anyone you care about.
  • If you play an instrument, keep up your practice but choose fun pieces to play. You’ll learn just as much (maybe more) from sticking to the fun stuff.
  • Don’t spend too much time on screens. “Too much” is when your eyes start to feel tired, you haven’t had enough physical activity, you’re just mindlessly scrolling, your family are missing you and you lose track of time. Discuss as a whole household times when you’ll all be offline and do something else together or alone.
  • Do some physical activity each day and try to get outside, whatever the weather.
  • Dog with book at home. Fun pet in bed.

    Read books: when it’s raining, when you’re alone, before bed, when you want to rest your body.

  • If you’re someone who needs time alone, discuss how you’ll get this in a busy household – it’s important to your health. If you’re someone who needs people and noise and your household is small and quiet, discuss how you can have some fun online with your fellow extroverts.
  • Focus on fun, whether that means a peaceful or social time. It’s your holiday!

Sleep

Sleep has always been a big topic of mine. I’ve written about it in Positively Teenage, The Teenage Guide to Stress and Blame My Brain. But now (soon!) I have a whole book, The Awesome Power of Sleep – How to supercharge your teenage brain – coming. And at the moment, despite knowing all the advice and science, I’m sleeping terribly myself. I know why: stress and worry, which in my case is nothing to do with Covid19. But I’m doing my best and I know I’d be even worse if I didn’t follow most of my own advice. I’ll be fine once my own holiday starts, I know.

Sleep and the holidays

You might be tempted to have lots of long lie-ins during the holidays. After all, if sleep is so good for us, shouldn’t we just try to get as much as possible? Not exactly. Staying in bed too late in the morning is disruptive to healthy sleep patterns. We need a routine of sensible times to go to bed and sensible times to wake. It’s OK to have a longer total sleep during the holidays, especially if we normally don’t get enough, but the way to do this is:

  • Routine: a consistent bedtime and waking up time each morning, if possible.
  • If you do want a longer total sleep time, go to bed a bit earlier than you usually do and set your alarm a bit later, but once it’s daylight it’s best to get up and open your curtains to let your brain register the light.

It’s OK to stay in bed for a lie-in for the first one or two mornings, if you want to. You will probably find it harder to sleep afterwards but if it means a lot to do to do this, go for it. But after that, create a reasonable and healthy routine, not going to bed too late or getting up too late.

How much is enough sleep?

It differs for everyone but you’ll probably know if you have enough because you’ll feel alert and well during the day and wake up fairly easily in the morning. (Having said that, teenagers typically find it harder to wake in the mornings and may still feel groggy until later than adults.) The average adult does well on 7-8 hours and the average teenager on 8-9 or a little longer. So, look at your normal sleep times and decide whether you’re getting enough or not.

Then:

  1. Work out what your sleep target is – how many hours total?
  2. Decide an appropriate bedtime. (The time when you turn your light off and aim to fall asleep shortly after.) I suggest anything between 9.30 and 11pm for teenagers and adults. (But you do what works for you.)
  3. Then work out your waking up time, to give you the right number of hours. Add on 30 minutes to allow for not falling asleep straightaway. Set your alarm!

My other tips for holiday sleep time are:

  • Always have a winding-down routine for 1-2 hours before going to bed – no screens, bright lights, caffeine, strenuous activity, excitement or stress.
  • Can you keep your phone out of your bedroom or have it switched off and out of sight?
  • If you have your work in your bedroom, tidy it away before you get ready for bed. You need to associate sleep time with not seeing your work.

You’ll find more tips for SLEEP here.

In short

Make the most of your holiday: you need it and deserve it. It will heal and refresh you. Eat gorgeous food, play games with friends or family (even if online), go outside every day, set yourself some achievable targets, make time to breathe and look after your sleep.

Happy holidays, everyone, when they come and however short or long they are! Make it the best it can be.

 

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