Summer vacation…time to recharge, recalibrate and re-energize

Thoughts and tips to help you maximize the benefits of your vacation break


Frema Engel, MSW

Specialist in Mental Health and Building Healthy Workplaces

Chair, Speakers Listening – CAPS Peer Support Program.

With summer in the air, many of us are counting the days to vacation. We look forward to taking a break from work, forgetting about everything work-related and having a chance to focus on family and friends, doing something completely different and having a good time. Yet, let’s face it, taking a total withdrawal-from-work vacation is not so easy to do when we are so connected to our cell phones, email and social media.

Vacation break is necessary and beneficial because it gives us a rest from our hectic schedules and allows us to unwind, decompress, relax and rest. A complete vacation break is important for our physical and mental well-being, giving us time and space to take care of ourselves and to spend quality time with family and friends.

Benefits from taking a break

A quick Google search returns articles and blogs highlighting the physical and mental health benefits gained from completely disconnecting from work for a period of time when we take a vacation. It alleviates stress, improves productivity and creativity and even improves physical health. Vacation time has similar benefits for family members. A break also helps us to recharge, recalibrate and re-energize.

Our body and brain gets a rest. Being away from work clears the brain and gives it space so that we can see the world in a different way and get re-energized. With new-found energy, we have more to give — to our clients, our family and ourselves. No doubt about it, vacations are good for our souls, physical health and emotional well-being.

Turning off the mind

To enjoy the benefits the break has to be long enough and real. The more stress we have in our lives the harder it is to ‘tune out’ from work and control or get rid of those irritatingly intrusive work-related thoughts. ‘Oops, forgot to send a couple of emails or follow-up with a client; didn’t have a chance to put in a proposal or to write an article I promised. ’ The list of things we forgot to do or did not have time to get to before we take our break will become clearer and get longer as we begin to unwind in the early days of vacation. The temptation will be strong to steal some time from our break to take care of them. We should not give in to it.

Toni Newman, HoF, our 2015 CAPS National President says that practice makes perfect or at least practice makes it easier to ‘turn the mind off’.  Like many of us, she has had her own mental challenges over the years and knows the worse thing she can do is drive herself into the ground.  Wanting to honour the commitments she makes to herself and to her family, she has learned to set boundaries around the precious time she calls ‘family life’.  She blocks off her schedule — two weeks at Christmas, one week at March break and 2 months during the summer and makes sure she has nothing work-related in her calendar.  Anyone who tries to send Toni a work-related email during these times knows that she walks her talk with her automatic out of office messages that describe in some creative and humorous way how precious and important vacation time is for her and her family and that business will just have to wait.

There’s only one way to avoid the temptation to answer work-related emails or phone calls or to use social media. Arrange an automatic return email message and an office and cell phone message letting people know that you’re away and when you’ll be back and ready to work again. Then turn off the computer, cell phones and absolutely avoid the temptation to look at your work emails or answer your cell phone messages. As for those intrusive ‘to-do’ work-related thoughts, simply make a list of them as they come to mind. This will allow you to let them go and help you focus on enjoying your vacation.

Ten Vacation Tips

  1. Just take it. Schedule a break and make it happen. Don’t let anything interfere with it.
  2. Take a break from technology. No electronics for work purposes. Don’t check your email and text messages. Give your social media a break. Don’t get a long distance package if you’re going out of the country.
  3. Make the break real.   Give yourself time to unwind, to get rid of the mental clutter and to recharge. Allow your mind and body to take a rest.
  4. Avoid thinking about what anyone else is doing or things you ‘should’ do. Avoid comparing yourself to others or making lists of things you need to do. Do what’s right for you. After all, you’re the only one who counts.
  5. If finances are tight, enjoy a ‘staycation’. Become a tourist in your own city. Take advantage of the free or inexpensive summer activities for adults and children.
  6. Improve your physical health. Get the body moving and do at least one physical activity a day. Walking, biking, hiking and swimming are all free activities that have tremendous benefits for our physical and mental health.
  7. Improve your mental health. Relax, rest and spend time with positive, energizing, supportive people. Do nice things for you and enjoy the moment.
  8. Revamp your relationships. Reconnect and revitalize relationships that have taken a toll from an on-call, always-on and ever-demanding work culture.
  9. Be creative. Do a project that’s different and will exercise an underutilized part of your brain. Gardening and getting your hands dirty, being in the fresh air, reading a novel and cooking a gourmet dinner will help you focus your attention and crowd out pestering intrusive work-related thoughts.
  10. Have fun and enjoy life. Let yourself go, laugh, do some things you loved as a child, allow yourself to play and to be as carefree as a child.

Lastly, make your plans, take off and enjoy your vacation!


Footnote: When vacation time does not bring not all joy and excitement

When we’re going through a difficult personal time or we feel something is missing from our lives, summer vacation time can create distress rather than de-stress and cause dread and anxiety rather than joyful anticipation. Vacation time can also heighten loneliness, conflict and family or personal problems.  

These are things that happen in life and at some time or another happens to all of us. Yet because of the social stigma against admitting that we’re not excited by our vacation plans, that we have no plans at all or that vacation turned out to be a dud, we do the next best thing… stick a smile on our faces and tell the world that all is well when inside it feels quite the opposite.  

If this is happening to you, you’re not alone and you don’t have to deal with this alone. Reach out and talk with someone who’s gone through a similar experience and who will understand what you’re going through. A CAPS Peer Support Program Volunteer can help you by listening, brainstorming ideas and sharing resources and strategies.  

CAPS Peer Support Program is CONFIDENTIAL. Our members are using it. You can too. Just reach out. Contact us at:



 Frema Engel, MSW

 Frema Engel is a mental health specialist, anti-bullying activist, conflict resolution facilitator and builder of wholesome relationships and healthy workplaces. Her passion is to help individuals and teams find the right strategies to overcome the challenges that drag them down and to enjoy life.  


Frema created, developed and Chairs the CAPS Peer Support Program because she believes we can all use a little TLC during difficult times and knows the power of peer support.