Taking Mindfulness on Holiday

Palm Trees

 

When we embark on a holiday we naturally want it to be a time of rest and relaxation, or excitement and adventure. However, whilst we may plan our holiday itinerary down to the finest detail, we can never plan for what feelings may arise during that time.

Expectations vs Reality

Our trips away may be planned months, or even years in advance, and so expectations are high; we want to have fun, and we want to have amazing experiences. Because holidays are often expensive and only last for a limited about of time, we may experience a very strong pressure for it to be a particular way. Yet real life rarely matches our ideas of should’s and shouldn’t’s, and so when we find ourselves in unexpected situations we may feel disappointed, that we’ve somehow ‘failed’, or that all the time and money we have spent has been a waste.

Mindfulness can help with this, even before we’ve boarded the plane or packed our luggage into the car. Being mindful in the lead up to a holiday or weekend break can help us recognise any expectations we may be holding. Are we set on experiencing particular emotions? Are we envisioning what the weather, the culture, the hotel, or the activities will be like too vividly, to the point of becoming inflexible? It might be useful to pause and reflect on how we are mentally creating our future experiences. This not only helps us feel less disappointed if our real experiences don’t meet the standards of our imagined ones, but can also free up our minds so that we really appreciate the wonderful moments of our holiday. With fewer expectations we are more likely to notice those special moments that are impossible to plan for.

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Family Dramas

Although we like to imagine that family dynamics will change for the better once we are away from home, the truth is that we are still the same people with the same emotional baggage and history wherever in the world we happen to be. Conflicts and difficult emotions are bound to arise, whether we’re around the dinner table or sipping cocktails on the beach. In fact, with the pressure of high expectations, tension between partners or among family members can feel even stronger than usual.

When we get stuck in ideals of how everyone should be, our connection to those people suffers. Rather than being present with who they really are in any given moment, we find ourselves trapped by make-believe versions of them, and inevitably feel frustrated or let down when they don’t behave the way we want them to. But they, like us, are changeable human beings, vulnerable to a spectrum of emotions and experiences.

If we find ourselves feeling uptight because our spouse is being grumpy, or the kids are whining, take a moment to feel into that emotion. Where is it coming from? Is it fair to blame the other person, or are we co-creating that tension by having inflexible expectations? Compassion is a key part of mindfulness, and so approaching our holiday with mindful intent can help us be kinder and more tolerant of others, and ourselves! After all, family dramas are just as likely to be caused by our own issues as that of those around us. Treating our own emotions and the emotions of others with gentleness and kindness, instead of stress and frustration, can make holiday dramas much less explosive.

“The little things? The little moments? They aren't little.” - Jon Kabat-Zinn

The cost and preparation that goes into planning a holiday can sometimes cause more stress than our daily lives – the very thing we’re trying to recuperate from! It’s easy to slip into anxiety over money, missed connections, and all the potential problems which can arise when we’re in an unfamiliar place. Yet the very fact that we’re able to take a holiday, to visit beautiful and interesting places is a great prompt to remember to hold gratitude in our hearts.

Our brains are designed to notice threats above all else, and so noticing the good things around us can take a little practice. But once we start to make the effort, the easier it will become. By using mindfulness to notice when our attention is wandering to the negative, we can rein it back and focus it on what we feel grateful for instead. It may be something small, such as not missing the flight or a friendly smile from a waiter/waitress, or something bigger like a stunning view from a mountain. Take a moment now to remember something you feel grateful for, and notice how it changes your mood. Now imagine taking these moments while you’re on holiday. What a difference it can make!

 

Find out more about our mindfulness courses and workshops.

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