Through a combination of luck and circumstances, I was able to spend the month of June traveling for leisure. The four weeks were filled with site-seeing, relaxation, precious time with family and friends, long walks and delicious food—all of my favorite things, more or less—and so I expected to feel sad as I approached the end of this likely-once-in-a-lifetime adventure. Instead, I felt an odd combination of excitement and apprehension as I prepared to return to my ordinary life.
I was excited because I love my home in Rhode Island and I was eager to see friends, sleep in my own bed and grocery shop at my favorite market. And I was apprehensive because while I had just taken a month-long break from the various obligations of work and home, I knew that they had not paused from accumulating: I had a month’s worth of bills to pay, emails to respond to, and work projects to accomplish. What’s more, I’m the type of person who is motivated by momentum, and so I knew that getting started on the projects I had neglected for 30 days was going to challenge me. There’s nothing like a month of more croissants than crunches to make you NOT want to return to the gym.
Recognizing the feeling of apprehension, I made a decision in my last few days abroad that ended up having significant impact on my well-being throughout my readjustment to ordinary life: I decided that I was going to use the month of July to regroup.
[You may also like Teresa Coda’s other post: Distilling Key Takeaways]
The dictionary definition of regroup is to “reassemble, typically after being attacked or defeated.” But in my case, regrouping would mean reassembling my productive, healthy, energized life after a month of too much food, drink, and languishing in the sun and not enough email-checking, exercise, and working towards achieving work and personal goals. Regrouping wouldn’t mean expecting things to be exactly as they were before I left; this unrealistic expectation would discourage me instantaneously.
On the other hand, regrouping also wouldn’t mean throwing up my hands and saying, “All is lost after a month away; I might as well never set an alarm clock/call a friend/begin a project/exercise again!” Instead, regrouping would involve easing back into my normal way of being with slow but steady steps.
What this looked like in practical terms was that I only put one task on the to-do list for my first day back at work: tackle email inbox. On my second day, my single assignment was to make a detailed timeline for the remainder of July: what did I need to accomplish throughout the next few weeks in order to feel organized and prepared for a new year at work by the time August first rolled around? On my third day, I began to slowly make moves on that timeline.
[Struggling with the work-life balance? Blogger Teresa Coda has some advice: Rethinking the Work-Life Dichotomy]
In regards to my health, I simply committed to going to the gym twice during my first week back in Rhode Island, and three times during my second week, and I allowed myself to work out in whatever way felt good on those days (versus my usual regimented cardio and high intensity interval training schedule). In terms of relationships, I didn’t go on a coffee-date blitz the weekend I returned, but instead made plans to see friends over the course of the entire month—one or two social outings per week.
In short, regrouping meant that I didn’t set unreasonable expectations for myself in any category of my life, but that I remained committed to taking positive action steps each day of July. Regrouping kept me from being too hard on myself when progress felt slow, and it positioned me to be in a strong place for growth by the time August first rolled around. And, in the meantime, I was able to enjoy the month of July without feeling overwhelmed by the toll that a month of travel takes on the various aspects of life.
I think it’s really important to take a break from the ordinary life—to eat and drink too much and ignore email and exercise—whether that be in the form of a vacation, a retreat, a holiday, or even just a one-night celebration. These breaks are good for mental health, they promote learning, and usually, they are just plain fun.
But I think many people resist taking breaks because they know that it will be hard to pick up the pieces of their ordinary lives when they return to them. Having a plan for re-entry into normal life—a plan to regroup—makes taking a break seem inviting and the thought of returning from it less daunting. It’s a practice that I know I’ll be implementing from now on, anytime I diverge from my routines.
Teresa lives in Providence, Rhode Island, where she works as a Director of Faith Formation at a Catholic Church and dabbles in hospital chaplaincy. She has a BA in English, a Master’s in Divinity, and a passion for thinking about the intersection of spirituality, self-improvement, and well-being. Her perfect day includes slowly savoring a morning cup of coffee, reading for work and for fun, and receiving snail mail.