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Sonoma Family Life Magazine

7 Mental Vacations for Everyone in the Family

By Bethany Cook

Heading into a full year of a pandemic, it’s safe to say that everyone is at their wits end. We all need a mental break, parents especially. But how do we do it? Many of us don’t have oodles of money, free space, or extra energy to take care of our mental health. So I’ve created a list of a few “outta the box” ideas for feeling refreshed, even if it’s only for five or ten minutes. Most of my suggestions involve doing something that stimulates the senses in unusual or unique ways. Here are some to try.

1 Get juicy. Buy yourself a large, juicy orange and take it with you to the shower. Peel it, smell it, eat it. Squeeze the rind on your face and smell the beautiful scent.

2 Listen to music (really listen). Download a piece of lush classical music and listen to it the entire way through. Use earphones so that there is nothing between you and the music. I suggest classical because we often don’t have strong associations or memories with this kind of music. Sit or lie in a comfortable spot, close your eyes, and let the music take you on a mental journey. Obviously, if you don’t like classical music pick anything you enjoy. Just set aside time to listen.

3 Overwhelm your taste buds with a simple treat. Take a small microwaveable bowl and add a few spoonfuls of peanut, almond, or cashew butter. Mix in two or three squares of dark chocolate, and lightly sprinkle some sea salt on top. Place the bowl in the microwave for 15–20 seconds, just long enough to melt the chocolate. Slowly drag your spoon through the nut butter, grabbing some chocolate on the way. Mmm.

4 Surprise your tongue. For this one, you will need a partner (or two or three). Have a “taste test” with Dixie-cup portions of a variety of beverages: lemon juice, pickle juice, prune juice, Dr. Pepper, Sprite, cold coffee, etc. Take turns wearing a blindfold and figuring out what is in each cup.

5 Run yourself a nice hot bath—with ice cubes. Find your sore spot and hold an ice cube there until it melts. Not only will this stimulate your body and brain, it also will help heal sore muscles. Play some calming music and burn some candles if you want.

6 Make the ordinary extraordinary. Order an assortment of foods from other countries, or get yourself some new and interesting snacks. If you have some extra cash and want to indulge, try Vosges’s Chocolate Meditation Collection, or just buy some new and different kinds of chocolate at a local shop like Sonoma Chocolatiers in Sebastopol.

7 Get in touch with a childhood activity or begin a new hobby. What did you love as a child? Paper airplanes? Buy a how-to book that explains several different paper airplane designs. Or, for new paper-folding fun, try some origami. Personally, I’m getting back to playing the piano. Meanwhile, my wife has turned to Youtube to learn new skills, including how to patch a huge crack in our 100-year-old Victorian cedar beach house.

Bethany Cook is a clinical psychologist, a board certified music therapist, and the author of For What It’s Worth: A Perspective on How to Thrive and Survive Parenting Ages 0–2 (Mirador, 2019). Find her on TikTok: @DrBCook and on