Long weekends are the perfect opportunity to get out and about. So, to spend them in front of the television would be almost criminal.
“If we don’t plan our weekends, they just kind of go by,” Phoenix-based productivity expert Nicole Bandes told HuffPost. “Be intentional with the time you’re going to have for the three days.”
The key here is balance. You certainly don’t have to plan each moment of the long weekend. But making time for a few activities can leave you recharged and happier once the holiday has passed.
Here are some expert and research-backed ideas on how to make the most of your long weekend while improving your well-being in the process:
1. Enjoy a staycation.
Sure, adventures like camping can be fun, but they also require a lot of work to plan. This may lead to feeling the opposite of relaxed, Bandes said. (Unless, of course, you are a hardcore camper and you wait all year to go. You do you!)
Instead of tackling a big trip, she recommends trying activities that are close to where you live. For example, visiting a local winery, going to the zoo or checking out a nearby waterfront are all low-effort ways to recharge your batteries.
2. Tackle a big project.
A three-day weekend is a great opportunity to tackle the “never-quite-get-to” projects, Bandes said. This could come in the form of painting a room, clearing out the garage, working on the car or finally getting around to organizing your closet using the Konmari method (which comes with its own added wellness perks).
3. Host a group gathering.
Invite family or friends over for a meal over the weekend. A meal-centric hangout with your crew can bring some perks: Not only are there psychological benefits to baking for other people, research shows that being around a best friend can help lower stress.
4. Take a digital detox.
Some research suggests that too much time on your devices is correlated with more negative thoughts, anxiety and depression.
Bandes recommends putting your phone away for a few hours or even half a day. It’ll pay off: unplugging every so often can increase focus, lower stress, increase sleep quality and help you think more creatively.
5. Volunteer for a worthy cause.
Carve out some time this weekend all in the name of generosity.
A 2013 study found that people who volunteer are more likely to improve their overall wellbeing and life satisfaction than people who aren’t altruistic. Giving and unselfishness is also associated with having a lower risk of early death, a stronger marriage and decreased depression.
6. Catch up on sleep.
Schedule in some rest. An estimated 1 in 3 American adults are not getting enough sleep on a regular basis, according to a 2016 report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Good sleep makes your memory sharper, improves mood and focus and literally clears your mind: Neurological science shows that proper sleep clears toxins which build up in the brain.
7. Plan your next vacation.
The happiest part of vacation isn’t necessarily the vacation itself: Research shows wellbeing boosts with the anticipation prior to leaving. Use a couple of hours over the three-day weekend to get yourself pumped for the next big trip you’d like to take. Search for locations, places to stay, how much it will cost and what you might need to save in order to go.
8. Go dancing.
You don’t have to be Fred Astaire, either. Turn up the beats in your living room, grab your partner, kids or go for it solo. You need little more than your favorite song to do something good for your body, and let’s be real, just let loose. Here are some happy tunes that can help get the dance party started.
9. Optimize your back-to-work-plan.
Many people feel stressed out by their workload after a few days out of the office. It’s actually a major reason Americans say they don’t want to take off in the first place. But streamlining your tasks can help you feel empowered walking back into work, rather than anxious.
Set aside a little time to get organized the day before you head back into the office. List high-priority tasks to take care of first thing so you can hit the ground running ― and refreshed.
Because truly feeling refreshed is the whole point of enjoying a long weekend.
“From a productivity standpoint, [you want] to be able to do a thorough recharge,” Bandes said.
Recharge and refresh? Challenge accepted.