Why Taking a Personal Retreat Is Like a Vacation for Your Mental Health
The first time I went on a personal retreat, I was an exhausted stay-at-home mom to a two-year-old and an infant. I drove the two hours to the retreat center, checked in, and flung myself on the bed, where I stayed, doing nothing, for at least the next three hours. It felt like the greatest day of my life.
I spent the following two days reading, praying, taking walks along a beautiful woodland creek, stargazing, and basically recovering from the rigors of my regular life. As much as I adored my husband and children, I couldn’t believe how thirsty my soul had been for time away from them. Alone with my thoughts and my journal, I found my spiritual core gradually refilling after the draining first two years of motherhood.
Since the rejuvenating experience of that first retreat, I’ve made it a goal to get away for a weekend by myself at least once a year. I’ve visited a cabin on a farm, a retreat center in the Arizona desert, and — my personal favorite — an urban convent in San Diego. I always return to my family and my “real life” a better person.
A personal retreat can serve many purposes. For me, as a mom to little kids, simply having two whole days without whining, changing diapers, and dealing with a toddler’s endless stream of questions felt like heaven (not to mention getting to catch up on sleep). Now, years later, getting away from preteen drama and work anxieties helps me recharge. We all have issues in our life we could use a break from. But getting away from difficult people or situations isn’t the only benefit of a personal retreat.
While extended periods of isolation can damage our physical and mental health, brief periods of solitude do us good, body, mind, and spirit. Time alone provides us a chance to reconnect with our own goals, hopes, and desires, as well as with a higher power, if that’s part of our life. It brings us face to face with uncomfortable thoughts and feelings we might have been avoiding, but need to deal with.
Yet another benefit of a personal retreat is a much-needed hiatus from social media and the hyper-connectedness that has become standard for most of us. While you may want take your phone along on retreat so you can be reached in case of emergency, what about committing to staying off email and social media for the duration? Do you really need to know what your boss said about that technical question you asked? Do you really need to see your junior high classmate’s vacation pics? Shutting off the noise of these distractions gives our ever-active minds a rest and creates mental space that can be used for more important concerns.
Once you decide to take a personal retreat, planning doesn’t require a lot of effort. After all, you won’t be out sightseeing; the point of a retreat is to do less, not more. Conveniently, a retreat can happen anywhere, as long as it removes you from your daily life and responsibilities. Websites exist specifically for matching individuals with their ideal retreat spot. Retreatfinder.com, for example, allows you to search by retreat type (guided, silent, solo, etc.), faith tradition, features (counseling, acupuncture, and meditation, to name a few), and location. Many retreat centers offer surprisingly low rates, as compared with hotels or other mainstream accommodations.
With your location chosen, you set the tone for how to spend your time. Writing down a few intentions, such as specific emotional issues you want to journal about or a book you’d like to read, can help provide structure. Unless you simply want to veg, mindful use of time is critical for a fruitful retreat.
As the new year dawns, if you’re giving some thought to making travel plans and how you might improve your health, combining the two in a personal retreat may be your vacation sweet spot. Your mental health will thank you for taking the time to refresh.
Have you ever gone on a personal retreat? Let us know @BritandCo!
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