Think back to the last glorious vacation you took that felt like a retreat. Wouldn’t it be nice to recreate this same uplifting experience close to home?
I remember mine – an off-season trip to a Caribbean Island during a time when I was burned out from work. We were “off the grid” and could concentrate on just sitting on a beach, going with the flow, and having a casual and intimate experience. The resort was almost empty, and the weather was amazing. I did not want to leave.
What Kind of Retreat Do You Want to Create?
I recently heard a mentor discuss one of the definitions of the word retreat: (verb) to withdraw from the battle.
The enemy I wanted to run from was the overwhelm, overcommitment, and overwork I was experiencing. When troops retreat, they recover and regroup. Then leaders introduce new strategies and bring in reinforcements so they can come back to the battle reinvigorated and better prepared.
I want the result of my retreat to be a return of energy and resources to help me with my day-to-day battle. For me, going on a retreat and spending time in both rest and reflection helps me be restored and prepared.
Guess what, you do not have to escape to an island outside of the country to experience a retreat. You can set up one in your own house or close to home. You can turn your home temporarily into your own blissful sanctuary with a few intentional steps. Or you can sneak away to a location for rent close by. No matter which location appeals to you, follow these five tips to create the first of many wonderful, personal retreats.
1. Know What You Want and Like for a Retreat
What do you want/need from your retreat? There are times when the main goal of my retreat is to have time to disconnect and rest. Other times, I want to spend dedicated time working on a project away from my normal responsibilities. Escaping my hectic day-to-day activities gives me needed space to focus my attention on other things that also matter.
I had a patient who took a monthly trip to a hotel in a nearby city. She needed a way to decompress from her caregiver role for her child with significant health problems. Her husband took over her caregiver role for that one weekend each month. For her, it was a time to focus on herself, rest, and read. It was a strategy that let her come back to her family refreshed. I know several female entrepreneurs with young kids who will rent an AirBnB for a day or two and work to complete their creative work or record content in a quiet space.
What is your budget for money and time? For some people, a few hours are enough, and for others retreating for several days in a row feels best. Can you find a low-cost place to rent if you chose to create your retreat outside the house? What days have the lowest rates at your favorite hotel?
What are the non-negotiables you need during this retreat? Do you want to make sure you can still exercise during your stay? How quiet does it need to be? Do you want close access to other necessities? Do you want to be somewhere you can get food delivery? Do you need internet access?
Spend some time reflecting on these questions as you plan your personal retreat.
2. Hit the Easy Button
Speaking of food…we can spend a lot of time planning, preparing, and eating food during the day. During your retreat, how can you plan ahead and make it easy to have access to the food you want? If you retreat at home, one strategy to make nutrition easier is to plan your meals ahead. Can you have them prepped so there is minimal effort just prior to eating? Can you have meals catered and ready for you each day? Do you want to go out for dinner on your retreats?
What works best for you when you are on a retreat far away? I recently attended a women physicians retreat where we had a stocked kitchen and could pull together what we wanted for breakfast and the lunch and dinner meals were cooked onsite by a chef for the group. That way we could each concentrate on the other things we wanted out of the retreat and have wonderful meals at the same time. It was such a time saver and worth the investment.
It could be fun to post your menu on the refrigerator in fancy lettering so you could look forward to your upcoming meals. At my favorite resort, I love getting a beautifully printed sheet outlining activities I can participate in the next day as part of my turndown service. I would like to incorporate that somehow into my personally curated retreat.
What else could you do ahead of time to make it easier on your future self during your retreat?
3. Get Rid of Distractions
What gets in the way of your ability to focus on your self-care most days? How can you eliminate these distractions on your retreat so you can get the maximum out of your rest, recovery, reflection, and recharge time?
Disconnect from technology. Hide your phone away in a bag, turn off notifications, and set a particular time you will check in with loved ones. You may need more drastic measures if you are prone to get sucked into TV shows or internet rabbit holes.
If you want a serene retreat and your neighbors are doing renovations, your home may not be the best place at this particular time. If a certain type of music puts you in the right headspace, have it on replay in the background.
For many, it is hard to get in the right mood at home because there are responsibilities that call to us- like laundry, that smoke detector that keeps beeping, or the clutter in your bedroom. In the weeks before your respite, spend time creating your home sanctuary so you are set up for success. If that does not sound appealing, instead, you may opt for that modern clean rental that you do not have to keep in perfect shape.
The biggest distractions we cannot forget are the loved ones in our lives. If you live in a household with others, keep them in mind when planning your retreat. Could your partner take the kids on a trip to see grandparents for the weekend while you stay home for your personal retreat? If they also desire a retreat, you can switch roles next month and have your own special time together then. Does your furry family member need doggie daycare? Letting your extended family know you are not reachable unless it is an emergency will help with those texts that can wait. Planning is key!
4. Create the Right Ambience
Let’s consider other ways to create the experience you want. We have discussed what you may hear and see during your retreat but let’s not leave out the other senses.
Memories of the Caribbean retreat I alluded to earlier come back every time I smell a particular lotion. The hotel chain where we stayed has its own signature brand of toiletries that reminds me of my time there when I put a little on my skin. One can take home a small bottle or buy a bigger one in the gift shop. If this is a pleasant reminder for you, pull out that special scent during your own home retreat.
For others, a certain candle scent is calming and that would be the perfect accompaniment for your retreat whether it be at home or your special place away from home.
Can you choose your softest blanket to bring out for your retreat time? Could you lounge in your most comfortable pajamas or sweats for the entirety of your weekend?
Lastly, we cannot leave out our sense of taste. When you plan the menu we discussed earlier, is there a special treat that you will bring out only during retreat times that signifies that your “me” time has started?
5. Set Up Expectations
What else should you consider to create a successful personal retreat, whether it is for rest or productivity?
We are Women in White Coats, and we often expect a lot of ourselves and others. We are used to getting things done and being defined as busy. In doing so we can be prone to beat ourselves up for not getting enough done. There are several strategies you can use to redefine the expectations you have for yourself during your retreat.
To avoid the enemy causing havoc, try not to overschedule your time. I give myself compassion and keep in mind the purpose of my intentional time. If you want to complete a certain project or reflection process during your retreat, give yourself some margin. Have a minimal threshold with an option to do more. Do not ruin your retreat by creating stress for yourself.
After learning these five tips, are you ready to try planning your first personal retreat? Are you excited about the possibility? Give your retreat a fun name! Whether you are transforming your home into an amazing new venue, or trying out a beautiful location with a view as your retreat backdrop, make it a fun escape. Remember that successful retreats don’t happen only once, they continue to be scheduled. Make this personal retreat a recurring event, one you want to come back to on a regular basis!
Share ideas and plans for your retreat on the Women in White Coats Facebook group. I would love to hear what works for you!
Marion Mull McCrary MD FACP is a practicing primary care general internist in North Carolina and a national board-certified health and wellness coach. She is a former Women in White Coats Writers Fellow and Podcast Co-Host. Her website is http://www.marion-wellness.com, and she can be followed on Instagram and Facebook at @marionmccrarywellness and Twitter at @marionmccrarymd.
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