Woman resting on grass
Photo: © 2009 Jupiterimages Corporation
It's four days into your vacation and you still haven't been able to let go: You're fretting about your end-of-month reports, answering e-mails from coworkers, and now your boss wants to know if she can conference you in on a call tomorrow.

Not that you really need another thing to worry about, but being unable to unwind can be dangerous, says stress expert Elissa Epel, PhD, an associate professor in the department of psychiatry at the University of California at San Francisco. "Chronic stress is like having your engine in overdrive all the time," Epel says. "It can damage DNA. Relaxation is crucial for overall health and longevity."

So how do you get real rest before sliding your feet back under the desk in a week or two? One good way to start is to shut down the laptop, turn off your BlackBerry, and silence your cell phone, says Martin Batty, PhD, a relaxation researcher at the University of Nottingham, England. And you may want to mix in meditation or yoga—you've probably heard of the numerous studies demonstrating how these activities can help you unwind. But if you're looking for a new approach, the options below may deliver a much-needed break.

1. Indulge your interests. Sometimes the best way to hop off the stress treadmill into a state of positive well-being is to engage your brain fully in something you enjoy, says Epel. Cooking can occupy your mind and be relaxing at the same time, and culinary vacations make a good thing even better. The International Kitchen offers them in Italy, France, Spain, Greece, Portugal, the Caribbean, Mexico, and Morocco. You can stay three to seven nights and cook alongside notable local chefs (TheInternationalKitchen.com).

Cooking isn't your thing? Consider courses in massage, dance, or art: Artista Creative Safaris for women offers three-day courses in painting and printmaking in Carmel, California. The expert instruction is served up with hors d'oeuvres and beverages; to learn more, go to ArtistaCreative.com.