My Top Ten Favorite Mental Health Retreats

Mental Health Retreats

At the surface, this may seem a bit counter-intuitive; that retreating from one’s emotions would be the first step in mastering them. Yet, it’s most often the case that when we react impulsively and emotionally that we get ourselves into trouble. We’re reactive before we’re reflective. 

It’s Not Always a Straight Path to Move Ahead

In addition to giving us time to think things through before acting, retreats also give us time to refresh ourselves. The formula for success is rest plus stress equals growth. It is not stress, plus stress, plus more stress. That formula equals burnout and deterioration.

Much like when the internet stops working on your computer, if you unplug the router for a bit, when you plug it back in it usually starts working well again. The same can be said for the importance of “disconnecting” from time to time to reflect and better reconnect with your spirit.

Often times in my sessions with clients, I remind them that “Reacting is automatic. Thinking is not.”

The following is a short list of my top ten favorite retreat strategies.

My Top Ten Favorite Retreats

Strategy #1
Do Something Physical

If you’re already emotionally escalated anyways, why not harness that energy to do something constructive? Whether it’s going to the gym, shooting hoops, lifting weights, or doing yoga- any fun physical activity is a superb way to sublimate anxious energy in a constructive way. Physical movement will get your mind moving in new directions as well. Volleyball, soccer, golf, whatever floats your boat!

Don’t have time for the gym? Even if you’re the parents of a newborn child and its chilly out, bundle up and go for a walk around your neighborhood or local park!


Speaking of local parks…

Strategy #2
Go for a Walk or Hike

In addition to its mood boasting and exercise benefits, going for a walk can also be a great way to socialize. Invite a friend and/or take your pet with you. Pets are great listeners and never spread gossip.

Howard took this picture of me as we were enjoying a morning hike with the dogs.

Walking not entertaining enough? Give geocaching or disc golf a try. If you’re not familiar with either of these: Geocaching is hiking using a GPS to find hidden containers or caches that contain log books that the finder can sign to document their discovery. Disc golf is like regular golf, but with a smaller, weighted frisbee-like disc, and pins that one must hit in as few throws as possible.

Too cold to go outside? Why not try…

Strategy #3

Journaling is excellent for expressing feelings in a constructive way. In addition, seeing things written down often helps get them out of your head and put things in perspective. In fact, studies show that the simple act of just giving a label to your feelings will in-and-of itself jump start the process of feeling better.

Image result for doug funny's journal

If you grew up in the 90’s, you know all about Doug Funny’s Journal

However, if journaling is a bit too one-sided for you…

Strategy #4
Reach Out for Support

            In American culture, especially for males, we’re often taught to “pick ourselves up by our bootstraps” and that showing our emotions is a sign of weakness. Personally, I couldn’t disagree with this more. For most of us, periods of extended isolation only make the problem worse.

It never hurts to have someone objectively take a look at things from a new perspective with you. Perhaps schedule a counseling appointment. In most cases, the return on your investment with increased productivity and happiness is well worth the investment! I know when I’ve talked with mentors and other counselors, it’s helped me greatly throughout my life.

Talking with a counselor not your thing, perhaps…

Strategy #5
Call a good friend or mentor

Some people feel bad calling their friends to discuss problems, but isn’t that what friends are for? You could even call him or her from a nature walk or nice, hot bubble bath- you deserve it! For me, personally, I like inviting my friends to Pirate games over summer.

My good friend, Max and I hanging out at a Pirates game

However, if Pirates game aren’t where you find your peace, maybe try…

Strategy #6
Go to church or other sacred place of worship

            Prayer and meditation often help calm the mind and cleanse your spirit. Plus the support and connection you’ll feel will give you a sense of hope and a new beginning. If that doesn’t fully do the trick, set up a time to talk with your pastor or other religious/spiritual leader for some one-on-one advice.

Howard’s church, First Baptist Woodlawn in Aliquippa, PA

Speaking of church, I’ve often wondered why rosaries are often popular to do while praying. Maybe it’s also a means to relax if you…

Strategy #6
Do something with your hands

            Doing something with your hands can help you feel centered and grounded. There are a number of options here: Perhaps try knitting or wood working. If you’re more mechanically inclined, perhaps working on cars is your thing. If you’ve got a green thumb, perhaps gardening is the activity for you. If you’re the creative type, there are some really cool adult coloring books that are wonderfully therapeutic.

Notice anything odd going on in the picture above?

That’s Michelle, “The Knitting Lady,” upstaging Penguins coach Mike Sullivan.
Michelle says she often knits during stressful Penguin games to calm her nerves.

However, if quilting isn’t the right release for you, simply find a way to…

Strategy #7
Do something creative

Play guitar, listen to music, write a short story, make a photo collage, read a book… Some of the greatest artists this world has ever known have been able to sublimate their feelings into great works of art – it certainly worked for JK Rowling!

Music therapy is often the best therapy there is!
It’s a great way to…

Strategy #8
Take time for yourself

Pamper yourself. Do something mindless for a bit. Sit in silence and practice deep breathing. Sometimes the answers we’re looking for come to us when we stop trying so hard to find them.

Perhaps take a mental health day or a mini vacation. A weekend camping trip or a morning off to relax is sometimes just what one’s needs to refresh and refocus.

Speaking of camping, perhaps simply take the time to….

Strategy #9
Connect with Nature

Go find a smoothing body of water, sit at the beach, play golf, or sit under a tree in the shade. Fresh air is good for the soul.

If you’d like to know about the science of effective nature retreats, google “Attention Restoration Theory.” Attention Restoration Theory (ART) (Kaplan, 1989, 1995) suggests that mental fatigue and concentration can be improved by time spent in, or looking at nature. Pretty cool, huh?

While you’re in nature’s presence perhaps you might want to….

Strategy #10
Meditate or Simply Sit with Silence

It’s hard to sit back and observe our thoughts when our lives are moving a million miles per hour. Sitting in silence for a bit can help downshift your thinking to a more manageable rate. It can help you return to more of a baseline, peaceful state and get some perspective.

My friend, Chris Bailey, doing some reflection at McConnell’s Mills, PA

The catch here- you don’t actually have to sit!  You can go for a walk or run. You can be listening to the sounds of nature. The goal is simply that you give you mind a bit of time to turn down and disconnect from running amuck.

            If none of the above tips have worked, last but not least, try to…

Bonus Strategy #11
Sing in the Car or Shower

When all else fails, try singing in the shower or your car. I know it sounds crazy, but it’s a get way to quickly release your feelings in a healthy, constructive way. Even if you’re the worst singer in the world, tune into your favorite station and let it rip! It doesn’t matter what genre of music you’re into. A little car-e-koke goes a long way in boosting mood and changing one’s state of mind.

As with any effective retreat, no one approach is going to be the right fit for everyone. The goal is to find what works for you and roll with it!

The first step to mastering your emotions is raising your awareness to them by taking a temporary retreat.



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