A long weekend approaches. Let’s say that you have not been blessed with the kind of friends or family who plan nice things for your lazy self to do (while smoothly handling all the tedious logistics), or that you have purposefully blocked this space of time out to do nothing and be with no one. Sloth will try to keep you under covers, and immobile, and on your laptop. Do not succumb! This is the recipe for a miserable weekend, indistinguishable from all the other, wholly ordinary times you sleep in, putter around, and end up feeling vaguely slimy and unsatisfied and—most confusingly—not even rested.
Somehow leisure does not come naturally to everyone, and people decades into their lives lack enough self-knowledge to know of what makes them feel at ease. So if you involuntarily find yourself on the cusp of a staycation—a few days off of work with nowhere at all to go—think about how to avoid binge-watching and -eating and and listlessly refreshing your feeds, nominally “relaxing” but feeling distinctly unrelaxed, and resentful of the coming work week ahead. Even if you are stuck staycation-ing, you can do better than let it blend in with all the other wasted weekends. You need to let your Memorial Day Weekend disappoint you in a different and special way.
Begin by forcibly picking up your body and plopping into a different environment. If every day in a dense city makes you feel walled-in by strangers and cement and glass, escape all the hot trash and loud noise for a restorative day trip. (Even in New York, where almost half of households lack cars and its easy to feel walled in, you can access some fine hikes via Metro North.) Or at least go towards a park, play some pickup basketball or or park volleyball, produce a slick coating of sweat, remind yourself how out of shape you are—let flow the endorphins, nature’s mood-altering drug. Being in green spaces is a boon to mental health, an intuition reinforced by this recent Harvard study: controlling for the usual mortality risks, people with more exposure to green spaces enjoyed lower mortality rates. Just escape your usual environs. Bring some snacks and water. Unless of course you already live somewhere suburban or rural, don’t gloat, just go hang out on your capacious patio or stroll contemplatively through your neighborhood redwood forest or something.
No matter where you you’ll probably do well to get off your devices. That will shield you from seeing the superior fun that your friends are broadcasting on social media, and more importantly it will reduce your temptation to slide back into your work emails and catch up with all the other people insidiously blurring the boundaries between work and play. If you are lucky enough to have a job that affords you the luxury of ignoring it: try that. As the New Yorker explains in a recent piece about French labor laws and work-life balance:
In one way, the legislation seeks to regulate a simple labor issue: no one wants to do work for which he’s not getting paid. But there’s an appealingly metaphysical aspect to its recognition that not everything—our devices and, by extension, ourselves—can be “on” all the time, that each of us is entitled to the prerogative of occasional self-erasure [...]
The right to disconnect isn’t necessarily an obligation to do so, but it’s an opportunity—to claim a little breathing room; to realize that the world won’t stop turning, or even producing words or widgets, without one person’s constant vigilance.
By sneaking in those off-hours emails, you merely reinforce the communal expectation of working around the clock, which is what gets people sending those emails for you to respond to in the first place. You are part of the problem.
Even the people who make a living by keeping you tethered to your computer are telling you to cut the umbilical cord of #content and live mindfully for a little. This is rare, and to be taken advantage of. Don’t let every refresh of your Twitter feed iterate your anxiety. (Don’t check Twitter at all if you can help it.) Only a dummy would squander precious empty days feeling Mad Online. Unburdened by digital stress, you could even try engaging in real life with some fellow staycationers who similarly lack loved ones and planned activities.
If laziness or traffic keeps you confined to your home, at least use all this newfound leisure time to do something you wouldn’t usually do, with the time to appreciate it without having to return to a desk or an Excel sheet. Projects, even stupid ones, serve this purpose. They make you feel undeservedly accomplished. They separate the undifferentiated stretches of leisure time into recognizable chunks of “I did this” and “I did that.”
So: Cook an ambitious meal, since even if it fails spectacularly you can order a conciliatory pizza. Concoct an elaborate cocktail you would never be patient enough to try otherwise. Shoot some photographs. Snipe some flies off the walls with rubber bands. Carve up a large and chill melon. Assemble a nice jigsaw puzzle. Dial in for a long phone call with a faraway friend whose calls you’ve been bizarrely dodging out of stress. Build a primitive wattle and daub hut from scratch. Occupy your brain in some way. No matter your usual disposition, energetic or lethargic or otherwise, the most fulfilling ways to unwind often involve making yourself feel occupied by something. That feels juuuust superficially counterintuitive enough to sounds like good wisdom, so take it as such, and please savor every moment of your solo staycation.