Rx for Summer: Relax, Reconnect, Recharge

After two years of pandemic stress and restrictions, most people are ready for a vacation right about now. The recent Fourth of July holiday was a case in point, as millions of people nationwide sought a return to normalcy and traditions. Indeed, more people crowded the airports and hit the roads this Independence Day weekend than at any other time since 2019.

Despite this pent-up desire to go somewhere, travel is not an option for everyone. For one thing, it has become more expensive, with airfares nearly 25% higher than last year. The story’s the same for gas prices which, while slowly dropping, remain approximately $1.80 per gallon more than in 2021, at the time of writing. And then there are those with chronic illnesses or disabilities that make them physically unable to travel far from home. The same goes for the people who care for them, day in and day out.  

So if you can’t be a road warrior or take to the skies this summer, take heart! Capital Caring Health is here to suggest some fun and healthy staycation ideas designed to help you relax, reconnect, and recharge—close to home.

Relax

How to relax is a very personal decision, varying greatly from one individual to another. For some, it may mean a day out on the links with golf buddies; others may prefer a quiet afternoon alone; still others find respite in gardening or a day at the museum.  

Regardless of your preferred activity, the goal should be to reduce stress and promote enjoyment and gain personal satisfaction. Toward that end, experts especially recommend pastimes that involve exercise or movement, encourage mindfulness, or just get you outside. In fact, enjoying nature has been proven to exert a profound impact on health—just looking out your window or being in a park can make a difference.

There are so many options available, whether in person, virtually, or through videos. Here are some ideas to help you get started:

  • Create your own wellness or yoga retreat for a day, a week, or whatever works for you. You can find an online or in-person class that’s right for your fitness and skill level through your local YMCA or community college. Also, take a look at your local TV programs lineup: PBS, for instance, offers many different yoga programs, including for seniors.

  • Of course, sometimes a little self-indulgent care and pampering is just what the doctor ordered. If that describes you, treat yourself to a massage or mani/pedi , either at your favorite spa or performed right in your own home. Ditto if a wine tasting is more your thing. Some wine stores and restaurants offer onsite tastings or special wine dinners; others may even conduct in-home wine tastings. Check with your favorite venues to see what they may offer.

Reconnect

Summertime is all about relaxing and slowing down, taking the time to pick up a book or start a new hobby, and getting to spend more time with family and friends. If your summer plans include the latter, you’re already ahead of the game. Research shows that social isolation puts one at higher risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and more. And luckily, we live in an area that has plenty to do, much of it free-of-charge.

  • Game for learning about wild animals? Get up close and personal with the pandas and hundreds of other interesting creatures during a trip to the Smithsonian’s National Zoo—fun and educational for all ages. If you can’t get there in person, try watching  from afar through the Smithsonian’s own live-action videos, or the cams at the world-famous San Diego Zoo. Other fascinating sites include the bearcams, where you’ll see the famous brown bears of Alaska’s Katmai National Park and Preserve frolicking in the water, playing with their cubs, or catching a salmon dinner.  For even more wildlife viewing of animals from around the world—including a recently hatched puffin—visit explore.org.

  • Reading books with family or friends is another great way to spend time together and learn something new, informally or through a book group. You can visit your local library for story time, read to cats and dogs (yes, really, it helps children learn to read), listen to a lecture, or check out interesting books to read together. Many local libraries also participate in a program that turns your library card into a movie pass to stream thousands of films from every genre. Many major media outlets, like the New York Times and NPR, also list writers’ favorite summer reads.

  • What brings people together more than food? If dining out is too costly or concerning right now, think about hosting a simple backyard barbeque for your friends and family. To cut down on effort and expense, guests can contribute a favorite dish to the spread. Or go on a picnic in a public park. Another idea: Combine your love of reading with eating and join—or form—a book group of like-minded foodies.

  • For an “out of this world” experience—especially the kind that might enthrall your children or grandchildren—NASA tv takes you on a tour of the International Space Station; shows astronauts in training; and lets you take a selfie appearing in a spacesuit! You can even turn virtual space travel into a family field trip where you all have the chance to learn about a topic that may have alien to you.

Recharge

Nothing gives our brain as much of a workout as learning something new, all the more important as we age. And what better time to recharge than during summer? Whether it’s mastering a new skill or refreshing an old one, your brain will thank you! Consider one of the following activities:

  • Sharpen your skills. The possibilities are endless! Brush up your culinary techniques with a cooking class, often available in person through local community colleges and senior centers. There are also many online options including this AARP virtual series. Or learn a new language, either through continuing education classes, language clubs (like Alliance Francaise), or one of the many online resources, such as Yabla or  Babble. Let your imagination be your guide.

  • Take a hike. Local chapters of the Audubon Society, the Sierra Club, and others often offer educational nature walks, led by experienced guides who can point out and identify unusual or rare species. Bring your binoculars!

  • Pick a park. If your idea of an adventure is a visit to a national park but you can’t travel, no worries—you can still visit the U.S. National Parks through virtual tours of stunning landscapes as well as historic sites such as the final home of founding father Alexander Hamilton and the home and headquarters for Clara Barton, a government clerk turned field nurse who founded the Red Cross.

  • Unpack your piccolo. Did you enjoy playing an instrument in the past but put it aside because of other obligations and responsibilities? Now might be a good time to pick it up again and make those lessons pay off! Tired of the trumpet? Try learning piano or another instrument instead. Or look into joining a community band, orchestra,  chorus or church choir.   

  • Stargaze. Local college planetariums and observatories, as well as astronomy clubs often host stargazing events, especially during special events like meteor showers. Every now and then, the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum also opens its Observatory to the public. Or plan a trip to Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park, which offers some of the best night sky viewing on the East Coast.   

A Special Note for Caregivers

Finally, if you’re a caregiver, you may not have the time—or energy—to take a break. Still, the advice you probably hear most often is to make time for self-care, definitely easier said than done.

So here are some tips for fast ways to relax, recharge, and relieve stress, gathered from caregivers themselves. For an article in AARP, they were asked what they did during the pandemic if they needed to “escape” for 15 minutes, but were unable to leave the house. Some of their tactics might work  for you, too:

  • A paint-by-numbers kit
  • A needlepoint or knitting project (YouTube has instructional videos)
  • A quiet moment of prayer or meditation
  • Dancing your heart out for 15 minutes
  • A bubble bath
  • A 15-minute catnap
  • A phone call with an old (or new) friend
  • Journaling — find a journal that provides only four or five lines to transcribe thoughts or happenings from each day and offers enough space for gratitude and venting.

So whatever you do this summer—travel or stay at home—make sure your plans include time for yourself. It’s good for you in so many ways!