Ever since the lockdown happened, Shifa Merchant has been staying home- like almost everyone across the world. Those close to the avid traveller wonder how someone like her who seemed to be at a new destination every other day is coping with this, but Shifa is far from perturbed. “That’s because I always strive to look at the positive side of things and have found a way out- by taking mental vacations,” she says.
For those not in the loop, mental vacations are exercises that transport you to a dream destination, and what’s more, let you enjoy it almost like an actual, realistic experience. “So, one day I could be in Italy, the next day in Mauritius and the third, someplace close to home like Ladakh- not just places I’ve visited lately but also those on my bucket list,” explains Shifa adding that these mental vacations are perfect for these stay-home times. “They not just calm the mind but also fill you with hope that this too shall pass”.
“Mental vacations are a great way to reduce the carbon footprint and to consequently heal the Earth,” says Pankaj Chadha, fashion designer. From his days at Delhi’s NIFT, Pankaj remembers lectures that encouraged students to imagine situations- be it a day in the snow or the mountains or beaches as part of their meditation sessions. He has since continued to programme his mind to create happy situations to “seek shelter” from any stress. “Everyone needs to start doing these exercises, for, the art of travelling (mentally) will go a long way in having a positive effect on your mind,” adds Pankaj who has just finished ziplining over the majestic Angkor Wat with his mind’s eye several times this afternoon.
Dr Sujatha Sharma, clinical psychologist, often conducts “guided imagery sessions” with her clients with trips not just to happy occasions like birthdays or weddings but also to different destinations. “In times like these when travelling anywhere is a complete no-no, creative day dreaming helps,” she states. “I tell people to recreate the joys of places they have already visited and have the same fun again with the help of a mental vacation.”
“The idea is to let your imagination feel as real as possible. The more realistic you make your experience, the more enjoyable will it be for you,” she says and with a laugh adds, “I feel such breaks are sometimes more helpful than the actual ones. That’s because there’s no tiredness resulting from real travel and no tensions about rushing to work the next day.”
Nandini Sharma, a healthcare professional, would more than agree, for recreating memorable moments from her vacations in her mind helps her deal with the stress of ‘work from home’ these days. “If this horrid Covid-19 hadn’t broken out, I would have been holidaying in Croatia and Montenegro.” But with all those plans cancelled, amidst all her office work and household chores, she manages to take time out for not just for some Bollywood travel flicks but also mental vacations.
So, post watching Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, Nandini has taken a solo road journey through Spain and hung around the Eiffel Tower after watching An Evening in Paris. “I’ve done bungee jumping, scuba-diving and enjoyed a cruise on the Caribbean – experiences that have left me feeling so much better and relaxed,” she laughs and goes on to talk about Rhonda Byrne’s famous book The Secret that also reiterates this fact: “Visualization is the process of creating pictures in your mind of yourself enjoying what you want. When you visualize, you generate powerful thoughts and feelings of having it now.”
No wonder then, these mental vacation junkies have been suggesting these games of imagination to all their friends. “They might seem childish to some but they work – and they work well,” smiles Shifa. So, from ‘How can I imagine hiking up a mountain while sitting at home?’ (statements she herself made when she first started), it’s now become ‘The water of the gurgling spring I came across was particularly cool and refreshing this afternoon’… Bon Voyage!
MENTAL VACATION GUIDE
Dr Sujatha Sharma, Clinical Psychologist, tells how to take a mental vacation:
To get into a ‘constructive day dreaming’ mode, find a quiet, comfortable place and start with light breathing exercises.
Once you feel your muscles calming down, use all your five senses to make your visual exercise a holistic experience. Try and make it as realistic as possible.
Think of a memorable holiday you’ve already had – it could be at a beachside or up in the mountains, or drifting on a boat on a lake.
Once you’ve practiced doing this, create your own special place- this could be a getaway where you feel completely calm and relaxed.
When you feel anxiety overwhelming you, visualize your way to an almost real vacation, albeit via ‘mind travel’!