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Ask A TFI Clinician: How to Really Relax on Vacation

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August’s arrival may mean the summer is dying down, but many people take vacations this month. However, as we’re more connected than we’ve ever been via our smart phones and tablets, sometimes actually leaving work at work or home at home is nearly impossible — we check our emails and voicemails with ease and are constantly connected with our home lives via social networks and text messaging.

Today, TFI staff therapist Lesley Seeger, LCSW, provides tips on how to put your phone or laptop down, stay in the moment, and actually get away while on vacation.


It’s more important than ever — and also more difficult.

Today’s technology, while adding convenience, has made it harder than ever to get away from our daily lives, and harder to get away period. The little things add up — whether we feel the need to keep up with our children’s extracurricular activity sign up dates, check on work deadlines, or even return text messages from our families, unplugging on vacation has become increasingly difficult.

We are programmed to be available — to our jobs, our friends and our families — and often feel a heightened sense of responsibility as well as a need or desire. Often times, we may feel an obligation to get back to people because we are nervous we’ll be seen as less committed or a weak communicator if we don’t respond right away, for example.  Or, we may be excited about a future plan we are making and want to respond to that text confirming our commitment.  As a result, it becomes hard to just turn off our phones, even on vacation.

As a result of the mental stress surrounding what we “should be” doing, in many ways taking the time to relax on vacation is more important than ever.

Tend to the specialness of the moment.

Vacations are a special time — a time to get away, an opportunity to spend time with your children and loved ones, and perhaps be in a new place — and it’s important to allow yourself to be there. Often times, people try to do too much on vacation; they overschedule and make themselves too busy. It’s important to go into a vacation being flexible about what you may need: look at how many days you’ll be away and plan a couple of things you’d like to do, but leave the rigid schedule at home. Instead, allow for downtime, spontaneity and relaxation.

It’s also important to tend to your own needs and desires on vacation. Be flexible, but don’t sacrifice your own needs for everyone else’s. Vacation is a time where we can assert our independence and create boundaries if needed: It’s okay to not immediately text your mother-in-law back with trip updates if you want a break from the phone, and it’s okay to stay back for some alone time while your vacation-mates head to the beach for the day.  Communicating these things ahead of time may help assuage any misunderstandings or upset, and if you don’t realize what you need or want until the moment arises try to be as clear and collaborative as possible.

Tending to the specialness of vacations also requires stress management. If stressful situations come up, as they almost always do, be sure to deal with the problems as they arise. Problem-solve, talk through the issues and work together for solutions.


Refresh, rebalance, recharge, relax, reflect.

Remember that vacations require preparation and effort to truly be relaxing and enjoyable. Here are some tips to get the most from your vacation:

  1. Let people know ahead of time: Make a plan to let people know how long you’ll be gone, but also how to reach you in case of emergencies. Because we’re so connected these days, it can be easy to forget to plan ahead this way and instead just respond to requests and questions as they come. In order to avoid that sense of obligation, set boundaries and let people know the ways by which they can reach you in an emergency.
  2. Enjoy the challenge: Challenge yourself to turn off your phone, and try to enjoy the challenge aspect of it. It’s good to challenge ourselves — it helps us grow us individuals and stay in the present moment. It may be difficult, but that’s okay.
  3. Combat the anxiety: It can be anxiety-producing to cut off the connections we’re so used to. In these situations, it’s important to acknowledge and name the feelings and then validate them. Then, use deep breathing or other self-soothing techniques to calm yourself.
  4. Use mindfulness: Mindfulness can be a very important tool in staying in the moment and relaxing on vacation. When you feel yourself wondering about what’s happening at home or at work, acknowledge those feelings and thoughts, let them go, and bring yourself back to the present moment. Pay attention to the sights, sounds, activities and loveliness around you — really take advantage of the moment that you’re in.
  5. Decide what’s important to you: This is important in terms of setting boundaries and making sure your needs get met on vacation. It’s also important in terms of social media — many people use their phones as cameras, and as a result, immediately logging in to Instagram or Facebook to post those pictures is tempting. Decide your personal preferences with social media and weigh them as you go — if it’s important to you to post your experiences as they happen, decide in advance how you’ll handle it. If it isn’t important to you but you feel pressured to do so by others, decide how to handle that pressure while tending to your own desires.



Lesley Seeger, LCSW, is a staff therapist at The Family Institute at Northwestern University. She sees clients at the Chicago location and is a member of the Mindfulness and Behavior Therapies Program.

To read Lesley’s full bio or make an appointment, visit our website.

The Family Institute offers affordable, effective mental health treatment for families, couples and individuals. Learn more about us on our website.

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