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Taking the time we need for ourselves

Sometimes you just need to hit the reset button.

I don’t mean that you need to give your life a complete overhaul. I just mean that everyone occasionally needs to pause, step back from the hustle and bustle of daily life and establish a new focus for a little while.

Study after study shows that many Americans suffer from stress, anxiety, sleep deprivation and depression. Some experts, including numerous psychiatrists, point to the fact that Americans fail to use our allotted vacation days, giving back millions of dollars worth of benefits and ignoring our own needs for rest and relaxation.

Studies also show that men who are at risk for heart disease are 32 percent less likely to die from heart disease if they take frequent vacations. Similarly, women who vacation are at lower risk for depression. For both sexes, taking vacation time is associated with lower blood pressure and smaller waistlines.

Taking even a few days away from your job may allow you to catch up on sleep or to reconnect with your partner or family and friends. Even taking a single day off from work can allow you to recharge and return to work feeling refreshed and refocused on the tasks at hand.

As you may have guessed, my husband, Mike, and I took a few days off from work last week. We chose three mid-week days that still allowed each of us to be at our jobs during the busiest times of the week. We planned ahead and set the time aside, and we didn’t really plan to do anything. We knew we had a lot to accomplish, but we also knew how bad we would feel if we made a plan and failed to complete it. So we decided instead to just sort of go with the flow and do whatever we felt like doing on a given day.

In the end, we actually accomplished a lot. We didn’t take any long trips or go out for any fancy meals. There was no day at the beach and no walk through the woods, but we returned to work at the end of the week feeling less distracted and distressed. In fact, I am writing this column a few hours earlier than I normally would on Saturday morning, simply because I woke up without an alarm feeling refreshed and ready to go.

For us, this little break was all about domestic life. We have spent a lot of time and energy over the past few months working to remodel our kitchen. The project is done and the result is exactly what we wanted, but what we had ended up with was a beautiful kitchen with nothing in it. That all changed last week, as we washed scores of dishes, pots, pans and appliances and put them in what we think are their proper places.

I know that doesn’t sound like a glamorous getaway. But it was fun for us to work with one another, sort of piecing together a puzzle that we will live in for years to come. If one of us put something in a spot the other didn’t like, we moved it – no big deal. We fiddled with little details, such as which knives belong in which drawers.

We didn’t make ourselves get up at a certain time, and we didn’t jump and run to find our cell phones every time they made a sound. We just kind of unplugged, turned on some music and set out to arrange things the way we want them.

Sure, it would be nice to take a trip to some exotic destination I’ve never visited. I’m certain that Mike would enjoy a trip to an amusement park or a concert. But that wasn’t what we needed last week. We just needed to spend a little time together, making sure we weren’t focused on everything else outside our home.

So, other than taking time away from work, what can we do to help ourselves reset?

Here is some advice from a variety of sources, including the Parenting Team at Today.com and the New York Times:

∫ Partition a normal day into project periods. Instead of allowing social media and email to interrupt you constantly, set specific times to check those things and allow yourself to focus on other tasks in between those times.

∫ Allow a few minutes several times a day for physical activity. Get up and walk around the office or, better yet, walk around the block.

∫ Allow time for contemplation or even daydreaming. Making room for creative or analytical thought will help you come up with better solutions to problems, rather than feeling that you must solve each problem as soon as it arises.

∫ Add color to your life with a bouquet of flowers, a new outfit or new accessories for a room. Color is linked to mood, so refreshing a color scheme can also recharge your attitude.

∫ Get rid of clutter. At work or at home, having excess items lying around can make us feel overwhelmed.

∫ Find things that make you laugh. Studies show laughter can improve our immune systems and our relationships with others.

∫ Listen to music. It is well documented that music can help improve cognitive function, memory, auditory processing and mood. So turn on some of your favorite tunes and let them do the work for you.

These are just a few of the things you can do to help yourself feel rejuvenated. If you are feeling stressed or anxious, I recommend you take a day off and give at least one of them a try.

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