Gazing at the gently rolling hills surrounding Larimar, a luxury spa hotel in Austria’s Southern Burgenland, it might seem as if the view alone could provide sufficient relief from the ills of pandemic anxiety and Zoom overload. But Larimar takes its approach to relaxation and rejuvenation quite a few steps further.
The spa’s 14-day Burn Out Cure retreat (from 2,990 Euros per person) includes medical admission and examination, individual psychotherapeutic cure consultations, physical health consultations, an “Oligoscan cell check of minerals and heavy metals,” vitality and sleep checks including heart-rate variability, and small-group guided relaxation. “Mental exhaustion can lead to depression and burnout,” note the hotel’s promotional materials. “A team of doctors and specialists take care of individual needs and helps you find new energy.” Lest guests fear the program is excessively punitive, it also includes access to Larimar’s sparkling wine and “large dessert buffet.”
Now almost two years into a global pandemic, most of us could probably handle a little more energy and a little less dread, confusion and chronic cortisol flooding. And while wellness tourism has long been a monster category, covering everything from dental care in Thailand to a hot springs staycation, the ever-adapive travel industry is now offering services tailored to an increasingly ubiquitous problem: how to deal with personal burnout.
“[Burnout] is basically a lowered ability to concentrate and focus, difficulty sleeping, low motivation, low mood and mood swings, often coupled with physical symptoms like hormonal problems, headaches, aches and pains, GI problems and low energy,” says Amy Shah, Arizona-based MD and author of I’m So Effing Tired: A Proven Plan to Beat Burnout, Boost Your Energy and Reclaim Your Life. “It’s a sign when, even if you got a good night’s sleep, you wake up and you feel those symptoms – that’s more than fatigue, it’s burnout.”
Hospitality burnout programs tend to approach the issue in a holistic way, incorporating physical, metaphysical and psychological elements. Castle Hotel in the Czech Republic offers a Burnout Syndrome Recovery Programme that mostly combines elaborate spa treatments with hearty outdoor activities, including horseback riding and forest bathing. Lisbon’s Pessoa Hotel combines psychiatry, nutrition, coaching, personal training, yoga and massage in its four-day Burnout and Wellness Retreat; participants are tracked for 21 days post-departure.
Closer to home, Ontario’s Burnout Clinic is promoting staycations at resort and tourism partners around the province in order to take advantage of the province’s staycation tax credit for 2022. They’ve also developed a virtual option that creates an “immersive environment” for those who can’t get away. Duncan So, cofounder and executive director, says that the Burnout Clinic uses Neuro-Linguistic Programming, which claims to release suppressed emotions, limiting beliefs, and inner conflicts within the nervous system.
The Lanesborough Hotel & Spa on the edge of London’s Hyde Park entices overextended city dwellers with promises to help beat burnout through meditation and stress-management protocols led by Cornelius O’Shaughnessy, founder of Bodhimaya, a “wellness experience that [brings] together the ancient wisdom of the East and the most advanced scientific developments in the field of nutrition and rejuvenation.” A recent review in CEO Magazine noted that there were dedicated spa butlers on hand and that the treatments were a gateway to feeling “calmer and more focused.”
O’Shaughnessy hosts burnout-related retreats in a variety of exotic locations “from private islands in the Maldives to palatial villas on Lake Como.”
“We use an integrated approach that combines nutrition, meditation, yoga and things like qigong,” he says. He also does one-on-one retreats, which are tailored to personal circumstances and acute stressors, like micromanaging bosses or difficult personal relationships. “It’s about finding out exactly what’s going on with someone across the board, and then reducing things like physical stresses, emotional stresses, and helping them look at how they’re interacting with their life, their work, and their relationships. And then we look at how we ease the stress out of these things.”
The pandemic has completely changed the nature of O’Shaughnessy’s work. “People are under a huge amount of stress and they don’t know what’s going on with the world and where things are going,” he says. “With what they’ve been put through over the past two years, we’re seeing much more intolerable levels of stress, burnout and chronic states of fear and anxiety. There’s a much more emotional component to it and they need really deep work.”
It’s unsurprising that the wellness travel industry would respond to the burgeoning need for personal and professional burnout resources, but these offerings do raise questions about whether burnout or chronic stress can be fixed with a multiday stay in a fancy hotel – even if you do have your own butler. While so many of us have long perceived travel as the ultimate decompressor, clinging to our days or weeks of vacation time as a panacea, have we now reached a point in our personal and collective dissatisfaction where “I just need to get away” is no longer the fix it once was?
Shah says that a vacation can only do so much: “Can it relieve burnout? Yes. Can it cure burnout? No. You can do things that are recharging by resting, sleeping, being creative, spending time with loved ones and eating good food.” In particular, Shah recommends that people spend time in nature, which is demonstrated to relieve the symptoms of stress. “But if you just go home and jump back into your toxic life, it’s not a cure; it’s just a temporary solution.”
O’Shaughnessy says that one of the biggest challenges he faces with his retreat guests is enabling them to make major changes more permanently. “A lot of retreats just do this kind of quick, short, sharp [plan] and then they let people get on with it,” he says. “We’ve found that we need to supply observations and support, continual checking in and reminding them of what they’re doing and how. … With the depth and severity of burnout we’re seeing now, it really has to be a long-term intervention.”
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