With the onset of a global pandemic, a resurgence of the civil rights movement, and ongoing economic and political turmoil, 2020 has been a rough year for many of us.
Could you use a mental health break right now? I know I could.
Unfortunately, the financial and public health woes adding to our stress levels are the same ones keeping many of us from tending to our need to take a break.
Travel restrictions are still firmly in place in many areas of the country and the world. Meanwhile, budget cuts mean less money to plan the trip of your dreams.
For most of us, it’s a near-guarantee that summer vacation won’t be business (or pleasure) as usual this year.
It’s disappointing when COVID-19 has nixed your plans to sightsee in Europe or wine and dine with your honey. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t an alternative to refresh your spirit and bolster your mental health.
Maybe now is the perfect time to consider a physically distanced, introspective alternative to the usual summer vacation: the solo personal retreat.
You can still make summer count with the personal retreat swaps below.
|Instead of a…||Try a…|
|Yoga retreat abroad||DIY yoga weekend at a retreat center|
|Vacation at a busy beach||Solo getaway at a secluded beach|
|Group camping trip||Quiet cabin in the woods|
|Out-of-state luxury resort||Solo staycation at a local resort|
|Girls’ trip with your BFFs||Self-pampering weekend alone|
|Big city entertainment trip||Stay-in movie marathon weekend|
I happen to know a thing or two about solo retreating. I’ve been taking an annual weekend away by myself for the last 12 years.
What started as a way to restore my sanity (and get some sleep) as the mom of three kids under 4 years old has turned into a yearly reboot for my mind and spirit, no matter what my circumstances.
Over the years, I’ve taken time at a beachside cloister, a working farm, and a suite in the Arizona mountains, just to name a few.
My annual solo getaway now holds an essential place in my self-care regimen, as nonnegotiable as healthy eating or regular exercise.
Friends often ask, “What exactly do you do with 48 hours to yourself?” The answer? Whatever I want!
A solo retreat can be anything you want or need it to be. On my own little forays into the hermit life, I always aim to spend plenty of time in prayer and meditation. I allow myself to read for more than my usual few minutes before bedtime.
I get off my phone and social media and spend time in nature, hiking or sitting by the beach. I eat the foods my family doesn’t like. And not gonna lie: On my most recent getaway, I binge-watched underrated 1970s Disney movies.
In a nutshell, a solo retreat offers the chance to turn off the world and completely self-direct my activities for a brief (but glorious) moment in time. It connects me with my own desires — which so often take a backseat to the desires of others.
As a result, I return to my normal life refreshed.
If regular vacation plans aren’t in the cards this year, consider these swaps for turning vacation plans into a solo retreat experience.
Were you planning a relaxing yoga retreat somewhere in nature? Even if your public retreat is canceled, you can still plan your own private version.
Give yourself (and maybe a friend or two in your “bubble”) an at-home yoga experience by creating a zen ambiance and queueing up some online classes.
Set the vibe with a singing bowl, some incense, and a sequence led by your favorite Instagram yogi.
Sure, plenty of beaches have physical distancing in effect, but if you really want to quiet your mind and lower your virus risk seaside, seek out a more secluded spot.
Do a little homework about which beaches near you tend to have fewer crowds (or none at all), then rent an AirBnB close to the shore.
If group camping is your usual summertime jam, there’s another way to soak up all the benefits of time in nature (without the hassle of peeing outside).
Book a cabin where you can forget about the news, sit on the porch, and listen to the sounds of the forest. You may not have all your pals to sing kumbaya with, but there’s a lot to be said for solo stargazing and s’mores roasting.
The summer getaway you had planned at an out-of-town resort sounded sooo good — and now it’s called off. Why not reschedule at a local resort or upscale hotel?
With so many travel plans canceled, these spots closer to home may even be offering reduced rates. Order room service, watch pay-per-view, raid the mini fridge, and lounge by the practically empty pool.
You can still live it up even when you’re locking down.
Maybe next year will be the year for a reunion with your BFFs. In the meantime, you don’t have to miss out on the fun of self-pampering.
Invite a close friend or two in your quaranteam to join you for a weekend of mani-pedis, mai tais, and rom-coms at your place or a hotel. Time it with your favorite subscription beauty box to add an element of surprise.
Can’t get to the Vegas strip or take in the best of Broadway shows? Customize your own weekend of entertainment instead! Curate a lineup of your favorite films for a weekend movie marathon.
You can get creative with themes, like favorite directors, leading actors, time periods, locations, or genre. Or maybe go with trilogies like Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and The Godfather.
If you really want to get into it, you can cosplay like your favorite character, make themed meals, and have watch parties with friends who are isolating at home.
The mental health benefits that flow from time alone aren’t unique to my experience.
Although we often hear about the American epidemic of loneliness, research shows that purposeful time alone can be extremely constructive.
A series of four studies published in 2017 found that even a brief stretch alone had a calming effect on subjects, “deactivating” their state of high arousal.
When people actively chose to be alone, the effect was even stronger. Their self-selected solitude led to increased relaxation and reduced stress.
“Solitude gives us time to reflect and better understand who we are,” explains psychotherapist Paige Rechtman, LMHC, MEd, EdS.
“Although it may seem scary at first, being in solitude teaches us many things — how to trust in oneself, and depend on oneself for entertainment, comfort, strength, and courage.”
And if you’re worried you might get bored with tons of solo time on your hands, lean in to that feeling. Research shows that dialing down our brains’ busyness can boost creativity and associative thinking.
As for disconnecting from email, news, and social media, taking a break from the drama of your devices can provide some welcome breathing room.
“It is essential for our mental health to unplug, period,” Rechtman says. “Although it’s important to stay informed by watching the news, it’s also important to step away, because unfortunately, the news brings a lot of negativity into our day-to-day experience.”
The same goes for social media.
“Although the messaging we receive on social media isn’t overtly negative, the messaging we then internalize after spending time on it is almost always negative,” says Rechtman.
You might be amazed how much you enjoy a temporary reprieve from the comparison, judgment, and squabbles that tend to crop up from perpetual feed-scrolling.
Even if you’re more of a go-with-the-flow type, you may want to give some thought to what will feed your spirit while you’re away on retreat.
“It’s always a good idea to set an intention, and to keep it in mind while doing a solo retreat,” says Rechtman.
“What do you hope to gain out of your experience in solitude? How would you like to react if things don’t go according to plan? What qualities do you want to embody on this journey?
“Asking yourself these questions can help you to set the tone for your experience before it even begins.”
Keep in mind, too, that some circumstances may mean a solitary sojourn will have to wait.
“If there is any question around safety, I would not recommend spending time alone on a personal retreat,” cautions Rechtman.
“If a person has any thoughts of suicide or harming themselves, or any kind of medical condition where being alone could put a person at risk, it’s not a good idea,” she says.
As for the nitty gritty of where to actually go, there’s no end of options for your own personal happy place, whether it’s an official retreat center, a tent by the beach, or a hotel room down the street from home.
When in doubt, check out Retreat Finder, a directory that allows you to search retreat centers by location, faith tradition, special features, and more.
No matter what you choose, a retreat may be just the nontraditional getaway your 2020 needs.
Sarah Garone, NDTR, is a nutritionist, freelance health writer, and food blogger. She lives with her husband and three children in Mesa, Arizona. Find her sharing down-to-earth health and nutrition info and (mostly) healthy recipes at A Love Letter to Food.