The new American Way can best be described as "work until you're dead." This is sort of a cultural maxim, a response to tough economic times and a harsh job market. Jobs are scarce, good jobs almost non-existent, so the model we follow now is one that demands we do everything within our power and even beyond to remind our employers of the daily value we add to their organization.
In 2012, Employers offered less vacation time, but more telling--American workers didn't take vacations. According to the linked news report, we feel overworked and fearful, and respond by actively working ourselves dead. Sometimes it feels as if we're going down the path to karoshi, "death by overwork." It's hard to say if Americans are dropping dead from work stress the way Japanese people have been, but it certainly won't be long if we don't reign things in. There used to be an argument for the rewards of putting in hard days and extra hours--promotions and pay raises; anymore, though, job-hopping is expected and standard because employers offer approximately zero security.
Since "vacation" has become a dirty word and a taboo concept, something we're loathe to do on any extended basis, I've come up with three recommendations of how to check out without taking time off. These are activities people can do on a day off or an evening; simple things that are easy and accessible in Chicago, and can pull you out of the stress factory for just enough time to get your head right.
1. Let's get metaphysical
When stress is eating you up, invading your sleep, destroying your ability to enjoy your kid's indoor soccer game or hockey night with the guys or Wednesday night knitting circles (I'm a horrible person and don't have a clue as to the kinds of things adult women do for fun), try something different. Go for a float at Space Time Tanks. Isolation chambers, or sensory deprivation tanks, have been around for years and have many devotees. It's definitely a bit wacky, and leans toward the space cadet end of the spectrum, but there's no denying it's relaxing. Some people claim to have profound experiences when they float--others (like me) just find it incredibly peaceful. It's the ultimate opportunity to unplug, that's for sure. No wifi, no handhelds, no email, no howling toddlers, not so much as a single sound outside of your own body and mind for an hour. If that doesn't sound heavenly, nothing does. Add a massage afterwards, and you may just be peeking at Nirvana by the time you're putting your pants back on.
2. Nerd out
Sometimes, shopping for no reason at all can be a great vacation. Shopping for crazy, almost useless, nerdy things is always a great way to calm your mind. Everyone is at least a little bit nerdy, has something they're obsessively passionate about. Tap into that inner nerd at American Science & Surplus on Milwaukee Avenue. It's sort of like walking into a real-life version of ThinkGeek; they've got all the products you never knew you needed, and are certain you never wanted--but the moment you see what they have and read their descriptions, you'll be convinced you've found the most important thing ever. Guaranteed, you'll go in carrying the world on your shoulders, but you'll walk out with and idiot grin and a bag full of useless, silly crap.
3. Get back to nature
You've checked out of the regular world. Then dove into nerd-dom. Now it's time to go natural on stress's ass. The Garfield Park Conservatory is a sheltered island in the middle of urban chaos. It's also open year-round, so you can warm up those gray Chicago winter days when the wind whips through your soul the way Fleet whips through your bowels. Get a dose of green and you might just feel better about things.