Almost half of American workers don’t take all their allotted vacation time, according to a recent study. When asked why, 46% of workers responded they just don’t need it. And, many of us who are over 70, especially those of us who don’t work, don’t take vacations either. We think what’s the point? If we aren’t working, we don’t need a break, do we?
Well, my answer to that is an emphatic “Yes we do!” Yes, we all need to take breaks from our routines and we all need vacations, time to recharge our batteries. Aging well is work. Without pauses and breaks, we burn out and life becomes stale. Summertime, of course, is a perfect time for R and R, that is time for Rest and ReCreation. In this blog, I share what I have learned over my 89 years about how to revitalize myself.
By June many of us who are over 70s feel somewhat depleted after months of activities, appointments, and meetings. Even though we may be no longer working, most of us still look forward to summer as a time for more unscheduled time and getting away. I feel like I’ve been too busy for too long. Something had to be done. Like many of us, I hope that summer will recharge my batteries and by September I will find myself renewed and revitalized. I‘d love to hear what has worked for you.
My summer getaways began with my grandson Victor’s wedding in New Jersey. Victor and A’lesia had been going together for eight years, ever since middle school, and planning their wedding for years. In early July, their parents, aunts, uncles, siblings, cousins, and friends from many corners of the U.S. and Brazil gathered for the ceremony. When Victor and A’lesia said the vows they had written, they were both in tears. As were the three bridesmaids, the groomsmen, their parents, me, and many of those who were there. These were tears of joy at the happy love story. We all feel moved when we see such emotion. And the reception, too, was joyous as this multigenerational, diverse crowd who had been strangers just hours before, danced together. What a treat it was for me to get out on the dance floor and dance my heart out.
My next mini vacation was when Peter and I went to Maine for several days with old friends. I swam in the cold seawater, walked in the woods, ate amazing meals, and lingered for hours around the dinner table just talking as twilight set in. On a day that was rainy, I taught some of them whist, a game my family has loved for years. They loved it too and we wiled away many hours laughing as we won and lost with each new hand. I could feel myself relaxing.
My trip to Geneva to visit my son Dan and his wife, Elizabeth, was my big adventure and a bit of a stretch for me. Luckily, I can sleep on a plane. So I arrived in Geneva in good shape. Being with Dan and Elizabeth was great fun. The city itself is beautiful — looking at Mont Blanc out their window, touring the breathtaking Swiss countryside, the charming Old Town, the Botanical Gardens, and the storied buildings of League of Nations was invigorating. I marveled at how efficient, convenient, and clean Geneva is. I gained a new understanding of what is possible for a city today when it makes a commitment to lofty goals like cleanliness and sustainable development.
Since being home, I have enjoyed a number of days with fewer appointments and fewer meetings. Some days, I haven’t bothered to check social media or even looked at my email. I take longer naps each day and never skip them. But I have learned over the years that totally free days just don’t happen unless I plan them. I actually blocked out a couple of days in my calendar and wrote in “KCE Holiday.” Then when someone called with a request or invitation, I could honestly say, “Sorry, but I have plans.” When the KCE Holiday arrived, I tried to do whatever I feel drawn to in the moment or nothing at all. That’s right, it’s okay to do nothing at all for a time!
Today, in mid-August, I am — magically it seems — feeling far more rested despite my travel and activity. Here’s what I believe has been important in washing away my fatigue and helping me regain my energy. It began with the deep satisfaction of being at a happy wedding and a happy family reunion. A reunion of the far-flung parts of my family doesn’t happen that often. And nothing fills my heart with joy than seeing my children and grandchildren interacting happily and connecting with each other.
Swimming is always an experience of refreshment and renewal for me. And swimming in the cool Atlantic Ocean off the shores of Maine was no exception this year. Water is part of many churches’ rituals to bring renewal and blessings to their people. No wonder so many of us in every country flock to spas, beaches, and lakes for our holidays. We know that water is healing and therapeutic. Even a long, hot shower or bath can feel renewing.
Walking in the woods has the same ability to soothe me and restore my sense of wholeness and peace. A lot has been written about what the Japanese call forest bathing, the conscious practice of immersing yourself in the sights, sounds, and smells of the forest. Research has shown that spending time in a forest can reduce stress, anxiety, depression, and anger; strengthen the immune system; improve cardiovascular and metabolic health. It boosts overall well-being and even helps you sleep. Forest bathing on my walks, like swimming, works for me. But even sitting for a spell on your porch or in the garden, and enjoying the flowers and watching the birds can bring relaxation.
Playing games is another restorative activity, not always recognized as important for us older people. Games get us totally focused and totally involved in the present moment. They create a temporary small world with clear rules and certain boundaries. I think they are pleasurable in part because we have more control over that small world than we usually feel in our lives with their many complications. This may explain why the whist games were so satisfying to us. The laughter created from the ups and downs and surprises of the game were also healing. Even if you live alone, you can enlist friends or family to play games online and find free ones here.
Travel can renew
Many of us over 70 see travel as a great way to renew our spirits. Despite the fact that travel is stressful, I grabbed the chance to visit my son Dan in Geneva. Even though I walk well, I did request a wheelchair. Airports can be bewildering and the distances you need to walk are immense. I was lucky to have the company of Dan on my trip over and my daughter-in-law Elizabeth on my return. I was astonished to realize it was only 13 years ago that I went to Bangladesh, totally alone, for a two-week trip to interview people for my book about Muhammad Yunus. I am not quite that person today — being realistic.
Some people over 70’s don’t travel at all — either because of their health, lack of interest, or financial resources. Renewal and restoration are still needed — taking short breaks becomes mini vacations. Even just a single hour can become restorative.
Geneva was restorative to me — thousands of new sights and sounds, marveling at different ways of doing things. I had a new perspective on my own life and also on the U.S.A. If you are looking for opportunities to travel with other seniors, try Road Scholar or learn about others here. If you aren’t up for travel, you can virtually tour other countries at your local Council on Aging or adult education classes. I noticed a high school near me is offering low-cost virtual safaris to Hawaii and Istanbul, guided forest bathing and bird watching and local history walks as well as dance classes and mahjong lessons. Opportunities abound. Consider trying new restaurants, fishing, seeing an art exhibition or a movie.
So here I am in mid-August, feeling revitalized, almost ready for September. I want to enjoy the remaining days of summer and savor each minute. Like Thoreau, “I want to live deep and suck out the marrow of life.”
And you, dear reader, be sure to take time out this summer to rest and restore yourself.