Mars and Venus on Vacation

January 19, 2012

I don’t vacation well. My wife can affirm this.

Stripped of my daily routine, I quickly get antsy. And when I get antsy, my shpilkas get the best of me. And when my shpilkas get the best of me, my family tends to get the worst of me.Yes, I know I’m supposed to sit back, relax, and enjoy the experience of what I’d like toremember as “fairytale moments” to be captured by cameras and captioned on Snapfish.

But knowing this only makes me feel guilty for being ”bad” at vacation. Which makes vacation that much less relaxing. Hence: more shpilkas.

Relaxation is just not a man’s sport.

Men are from Mars. We like to chase goals and solve problems. We like to master our experiences. We don’t exactly thrive in ambiguity. When we sit…and sit…and sit…well, we lose our minds.

So we recheck our emails, and reload our tweets, and research the could-be investments of our would-be stock portfolios. We look busy and ambitious with our miniature pursuits. Go us.

But, why? Why do we get so withdrawn and distant precisely during times when we hoped to be more involved and engaged? Why do we fidget and squirm during moments tailor-made for rest and relaxation?

Anxiety is our natural response to perceptions of threat. When we feel anxious, our thinking is hijacked by vulnerability.

But what’s so threatening about a lounge chair and some downtime? Believe it or not, much more than meets the eye.

The word “vacation” comes from the Latin term “vacare,” which means, “to empty.” Yes, vacation feels quite vacant. That’s the whole point, isn’t it? To empty our hearts of the everyday hustle-and-bustle, and embrace the deeper joys of life. But freedom can be frightening.

For men such as yours truly, there’s a fine line between rest and restlessness. Our structure is our sanity. A threat to our structure is a threat to our entire equilibrium. So we get anxious and detached. We seem distant – but this is just a macho shell, disguising our not-so-macho fear.

What we’re thinking: “Help! Where’s my routine? Where’s my sanity?”

What we’re saying: zilch. We’re men, after all. We haven’t exactly mastered the art of verbalizing our vulnerabilities.

Instead, we wait for iPhone vibrations and push-notifications to make us feel just a tad useful, but – ‘lo and behold – never quite useful enough.

A tinge of self-awareness can often make the difference between a winter “break” and a winter “breakdown.” Here are a few suggestions that I’m prescribing for myself, and for anyone else who shares my propensity for vacation jitters…


Some situations are more anxiety-provoking than others. We all encounter emotional “hot spots.” You know – the stormier moments of life, when we shine least and whine most.

If there are road-bumps ahead, it helps to get mentally prepared. Slow down the engines. Instead of, “Ready or not, here it comes!” – try: “Here it comes, so let’s get ready!”


There’s nothing wrong with feeling bent out of shape when the comforts of our everyday routine are abruptly replaced by the discomfort of their void.

Drop the blame game. Quit the shame game.

Daddies are allowed to get scared sometimes, too. It’s ok.


When I stop fighting the anxiety and start working with it, I can direct my attention to more important things – like my wife, and my daughter. The people I think about all the time. Except now, when I’m actually with them!

So, I do the unthinkable…

I turn off my iPhone. And my iPad.

I sign out. Log off. Unplug.

The emails can wait. The tweets can wait. The voicemails can wait.

But, the real question is: Can I wait?

Can I step out of my screens, and into my life?

To quote The Little Engine that Could: “I think I can, I think I can.”

Doni Joszef LMSW is a cognitive psychotherapist practicing with adolescents and young adults in Cedarhurst. He is a member of the DRS Guidance Department, and is available by appointment. Contact Doni by cell: (516)316-2246 or email:

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.