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Should we be switching off our brain during holidays?

Unplugging and unwinding during holidays is tempting, prompting us to escape the daily grind, responsibilities, and stress. The prospect of switching off our brain, letting go of work-related worries, and embracing a carefree state of mind can be incredibly appealing. It's an opportunity to relax, destress, and indulge in leisurely activities without the constant mental chatter. But you might be worried that switching off entirely might mean missed opportunities for personal growth or learning, and returning to the daily routine will feel 10 times harder! So the big question is - should we really be switching off our brains during holidays, or is it better to stay wired and tuned in?

Let's start by really understanding what we mean by 'switching off our brains'. Obviously, we cannot really force billions of neurones to go to sleep while we enjoy a break from the daily routine.

But when we’re on holiday, switching off might look like disconnecting from work-related tasks, avoiding intellectual fatigue, and embracing leisure activities with little mental effort. In other words, it's all about giving our overworked grey matter (that's what the brain is made from) some well-deserved rest and recovery.

Switching off our brain during holidays can be a great remedy to unwind and destress, allowing us to break free from the shackles of deadlines, targets, and endless to-do lists. Relaxation is the name of the game, and turning down the mental chatter can lead to a renewed mind and body, whether you're off on an all-inclusive beach holiday, a simple staycation here in the UK, or just enjoying some time at home.

But what about protecting our mental wellbeing?

While it's important to keep our brains stimulated and train it regularly like a muscle, it’s also important to give it some space to recover, rather than pushing it to the edge.

But that doesn't mean we'll let our mental wellbeing slip - taking a break and switching off doesn't mean stopping anything that is stimulating, rather finding gentle stimulation, embracing enjoyable and enriching or new experiences that naturally engage our brains.

Whether it's reading a captivating book, trying out a new hobby, or exploring a different culture, these activities can stimulate our curiosity and keep our mental gears turning without feeling overwhelmed. The key is to find a harmonious balance between relaxation and mental stimulation - like sudoku on a sun-lounger, or finally reading that book you asked for at Christmas.

Going to default mode

Now there's no need to pile on the pressure to find something that's both relaxing and stimulating, that you enjoy but doesn't steal all your time... in fact, our brains will do that on their own.

When our minds are resting, not focused on any specific task, and seemingly "switched off”, research shows that a network of interconnected brain regions lights up, called the brain's default mode network (DMN).

This network becomes more active when we're daydreaming, reflecting on the past, or envisioning the future. The DMN's activity during idle moments suggests that even when we're seemingly doing nothing, our brain remains active, engaging in a form of "inward processing", which includes self-reflection, emotional regulation, and consolidating memories.

In other words, our brain is naturally wired to ponder, introspect, and explore its inner workings during periods of relaxation. So, when we switch off our brain during holidays, it doesn't necessarily mean our minds shut down completely. Instead, it's more like shifting gears into a mode that promotes introspection and self-discovery.

So how can we nurture & rest our brains on holiday?

Designate "switch off" time: Set aside specific periods during your holiday to truly switch off your brain. Let yourself be free from emails, work calls, and productivity pressure - even if that's ignoring the lengthy list of chores to do around the house. Make a conscious effort to enjoy the moment without the looming presence of your to-do list.

Engage in mindful activities: While you're not turning off your brain completely, engage in activities that promote mindfulness and present-moment awareness. Yoga, meditation, or even a simple stroll through nature can keep you grounded and centred.

Read for pleasure: Give your brain a treat by indulging in some light, enjoyable reading. Whether it's a captivating novel or a travel magazine, reading for pleasure can be a delightful way to relax without overloading your brain.

Try new experiences: Embrace the spirit of adventure and try something new during your vacation. Whether it's learning a few phrases in the local language, taking a cooking class, or trying out a thrilling water sport, new experiences can be both fun and mentally stimulating.

Capture memories: Keep a journal or take photos to document your holiday experiences. Writing down your thoughts and reflecting on your adventures can be a great way to stay engaged and mindful without the pressure of chore or work-related thoughts.

Limit screen time: While smartphones and other devices are convenient tools for capturing memories and staying connected, it's essential to limit their use during your holidays. Set designated times for checking emails, messages and social media, so you're not constantly pulled back into the hustle and bustle of everyday life - or the pressure to have the perfect holiday!

There's no one-size-fits-all answer to the question of whether we should switch off our brain during holidays. It's not about completely switching off your brain or keeping it wired at all times. It's about finding a personalised balance that works for you - a blend of relaxation, learning, and adventure - even if it's simply venturing into your back garden.

A well-rounded holiday can leave you feeling recharged, inspired, and ready to take on new challenges once you return to your daily routine. Whether you choose to sunbathe like a cat or become a curious explorer, make sure your holiday is a rewarding experience that leaves you feeling well.




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