3 Ways to Put Your Brain On Vacation

Whether you’re planning a long beach weekend, a trip to the lake, or a staycation, the decision to give your brain a break is something you decide to do, regardless of your itinerary.

And it’s critical to do because shifting to a vacation mindset has serious power, given that much of your stress starts in your head with ingrained thought patterns and emotional habits. What better way to rejuvenate yourself than a brain holiday to shake out stale thinking and oh-so-familiar negative feelings? A great vacation is more than doing nothing; it’s doing something that changes up your routine, renews your energy, improves your outlook, and helps you re-engage with your life.

Here are three ways to give yourself this replenishing break for your brain, even without a plane ticket or a night at a B&B.

Take a Time Out
Whether it’s a 20-minute coffee break or a few extra minutes on a park bench, a time out is well worth your time— because it’s the quality of that time that matters, and taking it as often as you can will refuel and recharge you.
When to use it. Take a time out when negative thoughts and emotions are consistently getting the better of you. Are you too upset to talk with your spouse with kindness? Are you mired in self-doubt? Are you not just nursing but force-feeding a grudge? Then it’s time to sit yourself out.
What it does. A time out is, ideally, a pleasing, soothing interruption to reset your brain, mood, and day. It helps diffuse intense emotions and gives you a chance to step back from a negative stress response that could make your day a whole lot worse. Instead, you get a chance to make it better.

(Read more on how to trap, map, and zap your negative thoughts.)

Go on a mini-sabbatical
Relaxing is one way to recharge; re-energizing and re-engaging is another. So another way to give yourself a mini-getaway and cultivate a time-off mindset is to dig into something that interests and compels you. College professors regularly take sabbaticals, time away from their usual duties, to try new things, sink into a pet project, travel, meet new people.

Your mini-sabbatical might be as simple as watching a documentary that has nothing to do with work or anything else you usually watch or do. Or it could be inspiring yourself with a 20-minute TED talk. The key with a sabbatical is that it must rev up or engage part of your brain that you don’t usually use. This helps give you a fresh perspective, new ideas, and renews your mental energy.

When to use it. Take a mini-sabbatical when you’re bored and worn down by drudge, when you’re uninspired, when you look at your to-do list and see nothing fun on it.
What it does. Whatever your job is, you need variety to keep your brain fresh, curious, and resilient. A mini-sabbatical is an infusion of liveliness for that hardworking noggin.

(Read more on the power of creativity to boost resilience.)

Have an adventure
You don’t have to go bungee jumping or off-roading in Mexico to have an adventure. The key to adventure is a small measure of risk, even if that risk means doing something out your normal routine. Where can you experiment with something you don’t know well? Maybe it’s visiting a nearby city that you rarely go to, trying a new kind of cuisine, or taking a class. The question to ask yourself is: What can I try that I haven’t before?
When to use it. When you’re feeling hamstrung by habit and a little bored.
What it does. Adventure jostles you out of the familiar. It offers just enough discomfort to wake up your brain to the interesting, perhaps unexpected, present moment that is your life right now, no luggage required.

(Read more on savoring the present to reduce stress.)