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We need to take the time we get

It's almost summer and we're all dreaming of vacation time with family and friends, and images of relaxation and enjoyment.

But Americans tend to not be the best "vacationers." In fact, statistics show that Americans tend to take fewer vacation days than Europeans. You may be surprised to learn that Europeans take twice as many vacation days as Americans and many Europeans live in countries where it is normal to take a month off work.

Hold on to your hats on this one: the French get an average of 37 days off work for vacations, Germans have about 35 days to play, and Italians get an average of 42 days off each year! This may not be a surprise to you, but the American average vacation is dwindling in numbers.

Also, many Americans have difficulty leaving their jobs due to guilt and fear, wondering if they will be replaced while they are gone. This is fueled by the American "work ethic," the jobless rate, and a push by businesses to produce more with fewer employees. Add to that the economic pressures of leaving your job and the cost of gas and many people eliminate vacation days because the pressures are too high.

Workers aren't the only ones suffering. Stay at home moms and dads are pushed to the limit with juggling their schedules to fill their children's needs, managing households on small budgets, caring for children and aging parents and trying to find a moment of time for themselves.

Americans don't do well even when they do have time off. Research shows many Americans can't settle into vacation mode because they are too bogged down by their jobs, their children at home or other responsibilities.

We have developed into a nation that suffers from "vacation starvation." It is a term that relates to people who are overworked, stressed and anxious, and in desperate need of time off to refuel their physical and mental health. Starving ourselves of rejuvenation and relaxation can be detrimental to our well-being and productivity.

So Peoria, it's time to discuss some keys to creating meaningful vacation strategies to help you relax and replenish your energy during the summer.

Consider a weekend technology vacation. You may not have the opportunity to get away every weekend this summer, but you can commit to weekend technology vacations by deciding to not do any work on your computer, smart phone or your tablet during the weekend. I know some of you are cringing at the thought, so start by limiting your work-related use of technology and only answer business calls two hours on Saturday and Sunday. That leaves the rest of the weekend for family, friends and pure relaxation and fun.

Use your summer as a way to reconnect. There is powerful healing in connecting with others and summer tends to be a perfect time to reconnect. Whether it's around the grill outside, at the pool, or at your children's sports events, the power of spending time with others has been shown to improve mental health and well-being.

Make 'you' a priority. Give yourself permission to take time this summer to do things that make you happy. Whether it is going fishing, golfing, or just taking a walk, it is important to remember the importance of making time for you. Remember, Peoria has much to offer, and the key is allowing yourself the gift to enjoy what our city has to offer.

Find a balance. Summers are usually a time when the kids are going different ways and everyone has a variety of activities they want to attend. Summers tend to be hectic and creating a balance between family time, work time, leisure and activities is essential. So while scheduling summer activities and tasks, remember to include time for family, friends and yourself.

Consider doing something new and interesting. One excellent way to replenish your energy is to become involved in something that has always interested you. Whether it's photography or scrapbooking, learning to play golf or trying a new walking trail, expanding your mind is important.

The choice is yours, but take a free tip from a therapist (how often do you get that?): The way to enhance your mental health and well-being is taking time off from work and enjoying what life has to offer.

You can't eat the pie unless you take out the fork and move up to the table to indulge!

Joy Erlichman Miller, PhD, LCPC, is president of Joy Miller & Associates: Counseling and Wellness

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