Sounds like an oxymoron doesn’t it? But summertime, with its fun- in- the sun and easy-living motifs, provides sweet cover for a dirty little secret in American culture: Not only do many of us forego our hard-earned vacation time, we’re pretty uptight in general about relaxing. If you’ve ever felt guilty looking at your toes in the middle of the day while reading a juicy novel or watching a movie, you may suffer from this affliction.
Seriously, the merits of hard work notwithstanding, Americans abhor laziness — perhaps to a fault. Messages in pulling oneself up by the bootstraps and getting the job done, even if you have no shoes, start early.
If you want to get ahead you've got to work harder and longer than the next guy. So, if you're looking to integrate more relaxation in to your daily living, congratulations. You've made a wise as well as a brave decision.
American culture is relentless. Not only do our workers have fewer vacation days compared to other industrialized countries, we work longer hours per week than laborers in countries such as England, France, Italy, Spain, Germany and Denmark.
A new crop of studies, including by the U.S. Travel Association’s, reveals that even when American workers have paid vacation time, they don’t use it. Travel Effect Initiative, which looked at the impact of unused vacation time, found that American workers forfeited $52.4 billion in time-off benefits in 2013, and took less vacation time than at any point in the past 40 years. This means at the same time workers feel increasingly tied to their offices, they’re also feeling they have to forfeit the benefits they’ve earned. Working for free is fine if you're a volunteer.
On the other hand, if you're an employee, it becomes a completely different story with with legal, ethical and, yes, health ramifications.
Research continues to highlight the immutable links between lifestyle, work habits and health. According to the National Academy of Sciences, among others, our country outspends other industrialized nations in health care yet we do not experience healthier or longer lives. Stress, of course, is at the top of the list of a range factors that contribute to health disadvantages. On the other hand, relaxation helps to:
Here are five strategies to help you create more relaxation in your world year round.
First, give yourself permission. This is the hardest step for many people for the reasons outlined in this article and more. But, go ahead, give yourself time off, even if it’s a day or two. Remove your watch. Put a cover over the clock. Turn off the phone and the laptop. Move at your own pace. If you enjoy nature, spend time outdoors. Go for a long walk. Prepare a delicious dish. Read. Watch a movie. Kick back —and by all means kick any guilt to the curb.
Invest in yourself. Remember, if you’re depleted, your work and the people around you, including your family will suffer. Time spent letting your body, mind and spirit recharge is never wasted. It’s a wise investment in yourself and your ongoing ability to be effective at home and at work.
Schedule time for relaxation. That’s right. Put dates on your calendar to set aside times during your week when you can have the freedom to choose what you’d like to do—read a book, watch a movie, go for a walk. Try leaving a weekend day completely unscheduled.
Learn new techniques. Breathe. It works. There’s plenty of information available on the health benefits of deep breathing exercises. Explore yoga, Tai Chi or meditation. These practices, which facilitate deep relaxation, are gaining popularity in the West as their Eastern roots become demystified in the global village. Just setting aside 10-15 minutes a day to spend quiet time with yourself can make a difference in the quality of your disposition and your day. Some studies show meditation may even add years to your life.
Give yourself credit. Instead of constantly reviewing what’s unchecked on your to-do list at the end of the day, look at what you accomplished. Count the big and small achievements. For example, did you get your car in for that oil change you’ve been putting off?
Remember, busy isn’t necessarily productive. While drive, ambition and competition are admirable traits, it is important to keep perspective. Allowed to go unchecked, the shadow sides of these qualities show up as bullying and cut throat work environments. Beware of the busy traps and the busy beavers who, often unconsciously, set them. Some warning signs: Harried, unfocused energy and activity without a clear mission or purpose; unclear priorities, lack of or poor results, etc. Conversely, productive people are focused, know how to set priorities and manage their time. And yes, this includes scheduling time to put their feet up and breathe.