There’s a quote that stirs the heart of any seasoned traveler, the opening sentence of an essay by the writer Pico Iyer. It reads:
“We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next, to find ourselves. We travel to open our hearts and eyes and learn more about the world than our newspapers will accommodate.”
Iyer goes on to write that one of the great joys of travel, for him, is being able to leave his beliefs and certainties at home, and seeing everything he thought he knew in a different light….
Essentially, he says, travel can guide us toward a better balance of wisdom and compassion.
Cultivating that balance has been at the heart of wellness travel, which the Wellness Tourism Association defines as maintaining, enhancing, or kick-starting a healthy lifestyle that supports or increases one’s sense of wellbeing.
Many of the earliest wellness destinations offered primarily yoga, healthy eating, and spa therapies; these days, activities can also includesleep retreats, sound healing, nature immersion, and a variety of mindfulness practices, with a focus on mental and spiritual well being.
But what happens when we cannot travel?
Is it possible for us to treat this moment as a wellness sabbatical –– particularly one that helps us better cope with change, anxiety, and grief?
Figuring out how to weave the learnings, wisdom, and healthy practices taught at wellness sabbatical around the world into our daily, now more isolated, lives can be a challenge.
And yet, right now we are being given a chunk of time off to tend to our wellbeing — for whatever reason we need to.
Now, we can try to fill our days with healing experiences of our choosing, as well as a few hours of productive work to ease any jarring transition from our routines.
This is the goal of a new concept: The Wellness Sabbatical, “where days of work and wellness are intentionally blended at destinations that actively, creatively make this possible.”
It’s one of the Global Wellness Summit’s emerging new trends of 2020, and particularly relevant right now.
The Wellness Sabbatical is described by many in the industry as a “groundbreaking” idea.
According to GWS, on a wellness sabbatical, you’re set up with a great workspace and reliable technology/internet, and also have access to as many healing and wellness experiences (healthy food, movement, time in nature, sleep, human connection, etc.) as you choose, “hopefully for a minimum of three weeks, that sweet spot necessary to jumpstart lasting lifestyle changes and for a true mental reset.
“The most successful wellness sabbaticals will be those where the work and wellness programming is flexible and specific to each person’s unique needs. Most importantly, attention will be given to finding the ideal personal balance of work and wellness pursuits. Conventional wisdom points to a minimum of 21 days to make lasting lifestyle changes — exactly what we see as ideal for a wellness sabbatical.”
Guests need that time “to experience and internalize how it feels to attain the level of clear thinking and creativity that is present when one is relaxed,” which can then be sustained after the sabbatical.
Right now, however, none of us can reasonably be guests at a wellness sabbatical. Instead, we must cultivate it at home for ourselves and our loved ones.
For those of us grieving, whether from the loss of someone we love or a change in routine and habit that causes anxiety, an at-home wellness sabbatical can be particularly helpful.
Millennials and Gen X are at the forefront, organizing grief retreats, dinner parties, text-based therapy, and private social media groups, where activities can include bonfires, hiking, writing exercises, even grief dance parties.
During this coronavirus pandemic, many people are moving all these activities online –– rather than stopping them entirely.
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One of the challenges of navigating the mourning process is what to do with the feelings and emotions that can bubble up after a too brief time off when you’re back at work or beginning to go back to “life as it were,” even though everything is now so different.
“We talk about going back to work after a loss, or how a career changes,” Carla Fernandez, 31, told marketwatch, referring to conversation at The Dinner Party gatherings she hosts for a community of 20- and 30-somethings who’ve experienced the loss of a close family member or friend.
The wellness sabbatical –– even if forced due to social distancing and other COVID-19 prevention methods –– provides the ideal setting to press pause long enough to begin regaining your bearings while not completely disconnecting –– which for most people isn’t feasible anyway.
Technology has cut the cord to a single location, making it possible for millions of people around the world to work remotely. Ask any of those workers and they’ll tell you they’re more productive, more engaged, and less stressed. Better yet, right now, so many tools are offering their services for free including Zoom, Google Hangouts, Tandem and more!
The wellness sabbatical is about creating room to heal while allowing a healthy sense of connection.
Using quarantine to create this space and mindset for yourself can help to reduce anxiety and your natural grief at the loss of normalcy.
According to GWS, wellness sabbatical programs are designed according to the best evidence-based science, and they often occur in beautiful, natural settings. There are movement and exercise options, healthy food served, and stress-reducing treatments.
Meditation and healthy sleep are high priorities, and wellness education sessions are interspersed with work and social interaction, if you wanted it. While some people find comfort in a community setting, sharing feelings of pain, anger, anxiety, or even guilt, others prefer to deal with their grief alone.
In an article for Travel and Leisure, writer Laura Delarato describes traveling away from home and the “desultory outbursts and sleepless nights” following the death of her beloved grandfather.
On a floating dock on a lake in a remote part of Wisconsin, she’s “finally able to breathe after this sizable loss.”
“Distractions are a necessary part of coping with any traumatic loss,” Clinical psychologist Robert Gangi, Ph.D., of The Greenwich Village Center for Separation and Loss, explained to her. “No one can live in either sadness or escape all of the time.”
Adapting to a new reality requires both.
“One of the things that I think makes travel enjoyable,” he said, “is that the removal of the cues and details of everyday life, in effect, creates a new and different self…. The new surroundings make it easier to relax and accept this new truth instead of [continually] cycling through memories.”
A wellness sabbatical specifically for grief creates an environment for the mind to begin to find a place of ease. Being out of your routine, and perhaps your comfort zone, forces you to look at things from a different perspective.
It “forces you to see some light when you're surrounded by so much dark, and allows you to take a break from it all,” Delarato writes. “For me, it helped put me in a place to revive, making sure I would . . . take time for myself and not [have to] apologize for it.”
According to GWS, “The term sabbatical works well with ‘wellness’: It communicates enough seriousness to describe the time away from the daily work environment as meaningful, and yet includes a sense of freedom and self-directedness. If sabbaticals are time away to focus on a project, then this time, the project is an immersion into our own personal health and wellbeing.”
So, how do you get the movement, sleep, food, work, and restful boredom you need from a wellness sabbatical? Here are a few links and tools you can use right now.
And, if you need mindset help, we’ve got a full list for you ready to go to help ease anxiety in these difficult times.
Stay safe. Stay healthy. Stay calm. We’re all in this together.
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Illustrations by Ethan Silva. Ethan is the founder of Bad Lucky Studio and a freelance graphic designer and illustrator who has been working with Eterneva for more than a year. His work helps bring levity, beauty and understanding to grief through design. Written by Janet Ungless.
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