Stress has taking a toll on many people’s mental and physical health in recent years. Researchers at Boston University found depression rates likely tripled last year, while scientists at the University of Vermont who measure the happiness of large populations via social media data say we had the saddest day in 13 years in 2020.
There could hardly be a better time to “get away from it all” with a spa day or relaxation retreat. You don't have to escape to a tropical wellness resort to get relief –– we can reduce stress and cultivate soul-soothing relaxation without leaving the house.
“You can absolutely take a wellness sabbatical at home, but it's going to require planning,” says Kevin Carter, CEO of Hilton Head Health, a South Carolina resort. “The purpose of a wellness getaway is to leave feeling inspired and rejuvenated — so giving yourself a break, fueling your body with healthy foods, getting enough R&R and learning something new that inspires you is crucial to the success of the entire experience.”
Exactly what your wellness retreat looks like and how long it lasts is up to you. Maybe you set aside an afternoon or an entire day each month to recreate a morning-to-night schedule focused on rejuvenation and relaxation. Or maybe you carve out 30 minutes each day for self-care activities.
Here are six tips from experts on how to carve out space (in your home and your schedule!) to take a DIY wellness retreat.
1. Prep your space
Patricia Thompson, PhD, a psychologist and executive coach in Atlanta who teaches mindfulness courses to executives, recommends taking the time to declutter before you begin. “Ideally, you’d declutter your whole home so that it can really be a haven,” she says — but clearing one dedicated room or corner for your wellness activities can certainly do the trick.
Next, bring in a plant or two: Being around nature — even the potted-plant variety — can increase your sense of relaxation. Also bring together items that make you happy, whether inspirational quotes, photos of loved ones or souvenirs from beloved vacations you’ve taken in the past. You’ll also want to plan ahead to make sure you have comfy slippers, a journal, candles, fresh produce and herbal tea to truly recreate a high-end spa experience. You can even create your own mood or inspiration board on sites like Canva or Pinterest.
2. Make a schedule
Check out the websites and virtual tours of the spas you dream of visiting, says Dwight Zähringer, founder of concierge travel service Pure Cabo. “Top-quality spas devote a lot of resources to designing their experience — it’s OK to use their ideas,” he says. For example, your schedule might include a 10-minute meditation in the morning, a walk or yoga session in the afternoon, and a relaxing bath while trying out a mud mask in the evening.
Rather than focusing only on things you know you like (hello, afternoon nap!), looking at wellness-retreat schedules might give you motivation to try something new. Now is a perfect time to try out relaxing activities like reiki, Tai Chi, or yoga on your own terms. Consider signing up for a virtual class or watching a tutorial online.
3. Turn off your devices
Here’s an eye-opening fact: The average American adult will spend the equivalent of 44 years of their lives staring at a screen, according to a Vision Direct survey. That includes an extra two hours per day since lockdowns went into effect. And research shows that excessive technology is linked (though often indirectly) to depression, social isolation, and difficulty falling asleep.
Marisa OlGrady-Kessner, a wilderness therapy field instructor and founder of Grounding Source, a digital detox program based in St. George, Utah, recommends going beyond merely turning off your phone. “I suggest prepping your home to have all technology off and potentially even covered up — including covering your TV with a tapestry or blanket,” she says. That won’t only make the screens less distracting, but it can also serve as a visual reminder not to fall into your old screen habits (like flipping on the TV during lunch) while at your DIY retreat.
4. Create brain-boosting menus
Food isn’t only fuel, it also plays a role in our energy levels and mood. For a DIY wellness retreat, Uma Naidoo, MD, director of nutritional and lifestyle psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital, suggests incorporating foods that include vitamin D — including egg yolks and salmon — and fiber-rich fruits and veggies, such as apples, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts. (Vitamin D deficiencies have been linked to depression, while research shows that dietary fiber can beneficially affect mood.)
Drinking enough water is a healthy habit many people struggle with. To make it a bit easier to get your glasses in, Carter of Hilton Head Health suggests starting the day by making a spa staple: a pitcher of fresh fruit-infused water. Adding sliced fruits, like lemon or cucumber, can give the water just enough flavor to make it more enticing.
5. Get outside
Spending time in nature lowers blood pressure and the production of the stress hormone cortisol. What’s more, prioritizing outdoor activity will mean you get more sunlight and exercise. So regardless of where you live or how many hours you’re planning to devote to a DIY recharge, try to seek out green space, whether a local park, beach, or even your backyard garden.
6. Write a thank-you note (to yourself)
An at-home retreat with few distractions offers the perfect opportunity to resurrect the practice of handwriting letters. And your first recipient should be yourself. “Take a few moments to write a letter of appreciation to yourself,” says Mairead Fogarty, wellness coordinator at Mountainside Treatment Center, which has six East Coast locations.
“What would you thank your mind for? Your body? Your spirit? Take some time to pour love and appreciation back into the person who needs to hear it most: you.”
If a letter to yourself feels a bit cheesy, think of it as journaling instead. (Journaling can be a great stress reliever!) Either way, take a few minutes to write down your thoughts and feelings as they come. Spending the time to remember what you’re grateful for — and to appreciate your resiliency and strength — is meaningful.