Friday, September 23, 2011

Healthy, Stress-Free Vacation

By Alice Meyung, 4th dan

Have you ever measured yourself up against the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale?  On the stress scale, Holmes and Rahe rate major life events with a number of points.  If any of the events on the list has happened to you in the last year of your life, you give yourself the allotted amount of points.

On the adult scale, the total number of points accrued at the end of the test determines your potential to become ill due to the toll stress takes on your body.  If an adult scores over 300 points, they are considered at high risk for stress-induced illness.  If an adult scores between 150-299 points, they have a moderate risk of becoming ill (about 30% less than those who score over 300 points).  If an adult scores under 150 points, they only have a slight risk of getting ill.  For the past year of my life (2011), I scored 249 points.  The year before (2010), I scored a whopping 416 points (I graduated from college and moved several times).  Yet, in the past two years, I have been sick less than any other period in my life time.  My secret:  healthy breaks and stress-free travel!

Even though vacations score 12 points on the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale, I think properly planned travel can serve as a yearly bliss station—a place for recuperation and reflection.  Travel is also one of the most valuable tools in teaching us about ourselves and our reactions, which can help us deal properly with stress in future situations.

Pre-planning a vacation well can certainly take a large amount of stress off our shoulders when we arrive at our destination. But the number one thing to plan on no matter where you are?  Expect the unexpected.  Your plans WILL be foiled at some point.  You WILL lose something or forget something along the way.  You WILL be stressed out!  But you are preparing yourself to deal with stress in the real world by learning the Art of the Planned and Unplanned on your vacation.  Some of the best places I've ended up (a park in Madrid), some of the nicest people I've met (an Irish woman who pulled my family out of a car accident in Scotland), and some of the coolest things I've ever seen (a three-toed sloth) have been unplanned.  Sitting back and going with the flow can sometimes be hard in day-to-day life, but learning to relinquish control while traveling and seeing where you end up is a perfect way to practice.

Whether alone or with a large group, travelling teaches us a lot about ourselves.  When by myself, it is easy to gain better understanding of my likes and dislikes since I have the luxury of choosing to do whatever I want whenever I want.  When with a group, you have to stay with the group and be an active participant in order to get the most out of your travels.  Other people can expose you to and teach you about new things; your travelling companion might encourage you to try a new food or to go zip lining in the jungle when you normally wouldn't!  Learning to open yourself up to new situations and learning how to travel and work with other people can allow you to more readily accept new challenges or opportunities you might face in the workplace, at school, or in your social life.  The Stress Scale has a lot to do with how we handle new situations and change.  If we are self-aware enough to see how changes or surprises affect us on travels, then we can apply our self-awareness to life changes.

When the CTI Black Belt Team traveled to New Zealand in ‘07, we were fogged in and ended up staying there for several more days.  This experience turned out fantastically and reminded me that the unexpected can be such a treat sometimes if we embrace it.  By accepting change and making the most of it, we will be better equipped to deal with the stress it might bring.

Vacations and travel can teach us so much about ourselves and others.  It is a great way to fulfill our first Aim and Goal:  Learn about the mind, body, our culture, and the culture of others.   In short, travel is one of the truest forms of creating “internationally minded” individuals.  Operating with international mindfulness works on several levels, but one key point of an internationally minded individual is their ability to cope with rapid change.  Learning how to let go and relax is also something that should carry over from your vacation into your everyday life.  Taking mini mental vacations is key for me in strengthening my immune system and fighting off stress.  

Vacations are worth the twelve points on the Stress Scale.  It’s like an investment—you have to spend a few points to get a few back.  You might be stressed while planning and during the actual travel, but you are arming yourself with a tool (the capacity to accept change and the ability to relax) that will help you fight stress for the rest of your life.  Also, in my opinion, there is no better way to reclaim 50 points of stress than kicking it with the CTI Black Belt Team on one of their World Tours!

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