My schedule is abysmal. I methodically pluck each hour and consume it with some obligation. At the end of my day, my free time is as nonexistent and barren as a sweet-corn field in October. — Cheryl Fisher
Exams are graded. Grades are finally posted. Commencement pomp and circumstance has been observed. I am now able to turn my attention to my much neglected home, garden and family life. Closets and drawers burst with the abundance of unseasonal attire, while young seedlings choke on interloping weeds. I vaguely remember the names of my husband and my canine companion, who both have remained loyal and supportive during these past hectic months.
My closets need space to make room for a warmer climate wardrobe. My seedlings need space to grow to their full capacity. My husband and I need space to reconnect and reclaim the richness of our relationship. We need to make space and time for us!
Take back time
The concepts of overwork and “poverty of time” are explored and examined by like-minded professionals at the annual Time Matters: The National Take Back Your Time Conference. These individuals strive to bring life-work balance into practice through discussion and strategy by hosting experts in the field such as historian and author Benjamin Hunnicutt.
Hunnicutt, in his book Free Time: The Forgotten American Dream, challenges that “progress, once defined as more of the good things in life as well as more free time to enjoy them, has come to be understood only as economic growth and more work, forevermore.” He suggests that recommitting to the forgotten American Dream will promote enriched family life and provide more opportunity to “enjoy nature, friendship and the adventures of the mind and of the spirit.”
This sounds great … but how do we do it?
The most singular thing to do to increase time is to simplify. By minimizing the materialism in one’s life, a person takes back not only time but energy and economy by investing in priority-only possessions, people and protocols. Attending to one or two goals or commitments at a time allows for more full engagement and success. Focusing on positive thoughts reduces ruminating negative feedback loops. Unplugging from digital communication affords solace. Taking steps to simplify life allows for the cultivation of free time.
Free time: Benefits of vacation
Recently, I found myself thinking, “I can’t wait until the weekend so that I can get some work done.” Seriously! I was planning to use my weekend to catch up from the workweek.
It was at that point I realized that I needed a vacation. Vacations help to rejuvenate and rehabilitate us from overexposure to demanding schedules and work environments. Here are a few benefits to making the most of our free time.
1) Vacations reduce stress. The American Psychological Association found that vacations reduce stress by removing people from the stressors identified in the workplace. This was similarly found in a Canadian study that examined the role of vacation for 900 lawyers who reported a sense of rejuvenation from the temporary reprieve from their stressful work environments.
2) Vacations reduce heart disease. A Multiple Risk Factor Intervention Trial for the Prevention of Coronary Heart Disease found that in 12,000 men with high risk for coronary disease, those who took regular vacations reduced their chance of a heart attack by 21 percent. Furthermore, the largest and longest running study, the Farmington Study, found that taking routine vacations significantly decreased the risks of heart disease in both men and women.
3) Vacations decrease depression. A study conducted by Marshall Clinic found that taking regular vacations appears to increase positive emotions and buffer the effects of depression. A similar finding emerged from the University of Pittsburgh’s Mind-Body Study.
4) Vacations may make you thinner. The Mind-Body Study additionally found that taking vacations decreased blood pressure and decreased waistlines. These appear to be related to increased activity levels, a decrease in cortisol and a decrease in stress eating.
5) Vacations improve relationships and sex life. Spending time with loved ones and sharing experiences appears to have a positive effect on the bonding experienced in relationships, Furthermore, lower cortisol levels are believed to promote a positive feedback loop in the brain and increase levels of sex hormones such as testosterone, contributing to an increase of libido. Therefore, people report feeling more easily aroused and experiencing higher levels of sexual satisfaction while on vacation.
In an effort to resume balance, and with a renewed sense of conviction to self-care, I take the vacation pledge borrowed from Take Back Your Time (repeat after me):
I HEREBY PLEDGE:
To not add to the 429 million days of unused paid time off last year.
To promise to vacation so that I can lead a happier, healthier life.
To recharge, refuel and refresh by taking all the vacation time I have earned.
To ignore my voicemail, email and text messages for days on end.
To reduce my stress, improve my health and nurture my relationships by vacationing on a regular basis.
To return to my regularly scheduled life glowing, smiling and doing a little happy dance.
And so it begins … Happy summer!
For more on the logistics and responsibilities involved in stepping away from a counseling practice for a much-needed break, see Cheryl Fisher’s archive column “Break away: Five vacation hacks for the responsible counselor”
Cheryl Fisher is a licensed clinical professional counselor in private practice in Annapolis, Maryland, and a visiting full-time faculty member in the Pastoral Counseling Department at Loyola University Maryland. Her current research examines sexuality and spirituality in young women with advanced breast cancer. She is working on a book titled Homegrown Psychotherapy: Scientifically Based Organic Practicesthat speaks to nature-based wisdom. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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