Struggling with stress and burn out? Who isn’t? Writer Nicole Trilivas decided to do something about it – by channelling her inner Victorian. 

In my suitcase, you’ll find the following items: a floaty, white nightgown, a stack of Victorian novels, a variety of herbal teas. This isn’t what I usually pack for a holiday, but this isn’t my usual holiday.

Like most modern urbanites, I work hard and play hard. This means I work all sorts of crazy hours (the joys of being freelance), followed by big nights out on the town, multiple times a week. Even when I go away, I cram in as much as possible to ensure I make the most of my trip – so much so that I often feel like I need a holiday from my holiday. Having fun can be a lot of work.

But this whole go-go-go life isn’t sustainable, which is why I prescribed myself a health-restoring convalescence holiday at the end of summer, in preparation for the busy months ahead. 

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The convalescence holiday, aka a ‘rest cure’ or, more simply, ‘a change of air’, came into fashion in the 19th century. Doctors would prescribe time away to revive health and treat all sorts of ailments, including wear and tear from “over-strenuous labour or exertion of the intellectual faculties”, (as one Victorian surgeon put it). As someone slowly recovering from an episode of crippling burnout, that century-old diagnosis felt strangely apt for 2022 living.  

How to have a convalescence holiday

I choose The Newt in Somerset as my base for rest and relaxation. Set in over 1,000 acres of working farmland, gardens and apple orchards, it was the perfect place for retreating from city life. As soon as I arrived at the picturesque estate, I set out some ground rules for the duration of my stay:

  • no screens
  • no social media
  • no work
  • no booze (like so many, I’m guilty of relying on alcohol as a shortcut to decompress after a hectic day).

Instead, my plan was to partake in recuperative, ‘genteel’ pastimes that would have been commonplace in the rest cure’s heyday. That would include:

  • reading classic novels
  • writing poetry
  • ‘taking the waters’ (essentially, pootling about in the spa)
  • enjoying the outdoors as much as possible.

Fresh air is a key tenet of the convalescence holiday, so I immediately book a garden tour as my first activity and plot out my walking routes over breakfast.  

Spend time outdoors

Like an extra on Bridgerton, I quickly fall into character. I spend hours strolling green forest paths in the rain, inhaling the beneficial phytoncides (essential oils) of the trees, known for reducing cortisol. I spend vast swathes of the afternoon drifting in the pool and dozing in the sea-salted air of the spa’s pink-tinged halotherapy room, thought to benefit the respiratory system. And I gossip with the local staff (which is just good for the soul).

Appreciate the small things

Maybe because I don’t have the constant dopamine hit of social media, I get excited by the simplest things: the buttery-biscuit hue of the Georgian limestone stables; the long, fluttery eyelashes on the British White cows; the frilly edges of the dew-wet hart’s tongue fern (I learn from a plaque in the garden that the Victorian period also played host to a fern craze). 

I’m in bed every night at 10pm, dressed in a thin white night dress befitting of a genteel Victorian.

Try solo, mindful eating

Evenings are whittled away at long, solitary dinners, where I feast on garden-fresh, nourishing food at candle-lit tables, listening to the rain patter and marvelling at just how dark it gets in the countryside. As I’m on my own, my dinner entertainment consists of The Woman In White, an engrossing Victorian mystery novel by Wilkie Collins, a contemporary of Charles Dickens. 

While the novel is as bingeable as anything in Netflix’s top ten, it doesn’t distract me from eating, and I find myself naturally eating slowly and – excuse the buzzword – mindfully. I’m actually tasting my food. (It certainly doesn’t hurt that everything is worthy of my full attention – I’m still dreaming about the last of the summer’s marmande tomatoes and the impossibly creamy buffalo milk gelato.)

Be asleep by 10pm

I’m in bed by 10pm every night, dressed in a cobweb thin white night dress (look, you’ve got to dress the part). On all but one occasion, I sleep amazingly well – hardly a surprise after days of fresh air, no alcohol and no blinding blue light to disrupt my melatonin production. 

How sustainable is retreat life?

The time passes slowly, but after a few days, I’m back on the train to London. Someone is listening to TLC’s No Scrubs on their phone and I’m uploading reels to Instagram. 

I answer emails and take work calls. It turns out that the moment I leave the country idyll, I’m immediately vulnerable to 21st century life and fall back into my old ways. But that’s OK – rest cures aren’t supposed to be forever. The point wasn’t to come out a different person; it was to reset – and maybe now I can build back better. 

Images: author’s own

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