By Shelby Deering | Photography by Holly Leitner
It’s a fact: we all have stress in our lives. And over the past couple of years, we’ve had even more worries heaped on top of the usual life stressors (thanks, pandemic). Juggling ever-changing family and work schedules, life responsibilities and personal relationships can leave many people feeling overwhelmed, burned out and disconnected, and this may be even more true for women.
In fact, a study published in 2021 by the University of Chicago Medicine concluded that women in the United States experienced “alarmingly high rates” of mental health problems like depression and anxiety during the time period that correlated to the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. These findings corroborated earlier, pre-pandemic studies into women’s mental health. According to a 2010 study from the American Psychological Association, women are more likely than men to report experiencing “a great deal of stress.”
In general, women cite more family and work-related stress than men, and experience higher levels of anxiety.
The solution may be a women’s retreat weekend. As these wellbeing getaways have become more prevalent nationwide, the Lake Geneva area has seen a rise in the number of retreats offered here. So we wanted to find out what a women’s retreat weekend entails. Is it something that could help you or a loved one feel better and soothe away stress? What kinds of options are available locally?
WHAT EXACTLY IS A RETREAT?
Dr. Christine J. Quinn, Ph.D., CTPC, PCC, Leadership Coach and Higher Education Success Partner, is the owner of Lake Geneva Haven, a local vacation rental that also serves as a hub for women’s weekends. Quinn considers a retreat weekend to be “a short, two- to four-day getaway that provides attendees space for rest, rejuvenation and a variety of wellness or creativity-infused activities to experience in the company of other like-minded women.”
In the nearby Lake Country region of Waukesha County, nutritionist Abbie Steidl and health coach Kenzie Groh partnered to found Empowered Retreats, a company specializing in retreats that focus on “physical, mental and educational practices” designed to “help women build community and restore self love” in order to encourage “returning to… everyday life more present and mindful.” They say that retreats allow participants to slow down and focus on themselves, something which can be hard to do in today’s fast- paced society.
Elizabeth O’Connor Cole has grown up spending summers at her family’s Geneva Lake home. Today she is an author, wellbeing educator and founder of Chicago’s SALVEO Lifestyle, which leads retreats in the Lake Geneva area and beyond. She says that retreats allow participants to “learn tools and practices that you can incorporate into your life to support you in your journey to thrive.”
In other words? A women’s retreat is more than just a relaxing weekend away. It’s an opportunity to gather wellbeing advice, develop new life skills and form connections with like-minded women, in order to feel more empowered in day- to-day life.
One notable retreat in the Lake Geneva area is the popular Women’s Weekend Lake Geneva, now hosted by the Geneva Lake Women’s Association (GLWA), which will be held this year, May 13‐15, at a variety of locations. This marks the third year that GLWA has sponsored the retreat, with funds raised benefiting charitable organizations. (Before that, the event was managed by the Lake Geneva Rotary Club for 12 years in conjunction with the Lake Geneva BID.) “A retreat weekend can mean many things, from time set aside for quiet reflection or spiritual introspection, to wellness and educational development, to social connection and bonding,” says Missy Sell, GLWA board member and chair of the Women’s Weekend Committee. “Women’s Weekend Lake Geneva combines many of these aspects.”
WHY ARE RETREATS TRENDING?
Despite the challenges that the global pandemic has created in travel and event planning, women’s retreat weekends have remained popular, partly because they can be scaled to a smaller size or organized among a group of friends or family members. And the pandemic’s stresses make the need for just such a getaway more important than ever. “It’s been a tough couple of years,” O’Connor Cole points out. “People have realized that they need to make time to take care of themselves.”
Quinn agrees, and says she believes that women’s retreat weekends are trending in part because traveling during a pandemic has become complicated and limited. “Many women can’t plan long-distance trips or vacations like they used to, or they don’t want to be far from home in case they need to quarantine again,” she says. “However, they still crave an opportunity to spend some time away so they can focus on their own needs, recharge and gain a fresh perspective on life.”
She adds that while many women may crave an entire week or more to get away, that amount of time can be impractical when you have a job, deadlines and a family to care for. “Thus, a weekend retreat becomes the perfect remedy, providing much-needed time and space for a brief, but regenerative, respite.”
WHAT ACTIVITIES ARE INCLUDED?
Women’s weekend retreats can include a variety of classes and activities, but generally focus on nourishing one’s health and spirit while mixing in a healthy dose of fun. O’Connor Cole says that her SALVEO Lifestyle retreats can include daily meditation, yoga, exercise, time in nature, educational discussions, cooking classes, group activities and bonding opportunities.
Quinn’s Lake Geneva Haven retreats focus on gentle movement, such as yoga, and vision exercises that help participants reflect on different areas of their lives “to determine what fulfillment looks like to them.” This can even include sessions on design psychology to help participants learn how to create a home environment that supports their wellbeing.
Steidl and Groh, who will host their next Empowered Retreat in the Lake Geneva area from April 1‐3, often include sunrise yoga, breathwork, sound baths, hikes, cooking lessons and chef- prepared meals.
And according to Sell at the GLWA, this year’s Women’s Weekend Lake Geneva will feature a “Roaring ’20s” theme, starting with a kick-off party at the Riviera Ballroom. Throughout the weekend, the GLWA will sponsor a variety of related events that fall under four categories — Wellness, Education/Learning, Empowerment and Socializing — including yoga sessions, historic walking tours, wine and food tastings, history museum talks, creativity workshops, mixology demonstrations, aromatherapy sessions and flower arranging classes.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF A RETREAT?
We asked our retreat organizers to share the top benefits that women experience during and after retreat weekends. These include:
- Dedicated time for relaxation and an opportunity to pause everyday life
- Self-betterment tools and practices to take home
- Increased sense of empowerment
- The opportunity to become part of a supportive community
- Space for self-discovery and a boosted sense of self love
- Guidance on developing good habits and creating a plan of action that supports life goals
- Improved overall health and the opportunity to create new memories
“One of the most beneficial aspects of self-care is taking time to check in with yourself,” Sell of the GLWA explains. “Psychologists recommend people check in with themselves often, to ensure they are grounded and aware of their own feelings and needs. But with our busy lives, it’s not always easy to exercise that habit. A retreat can provide the opportunity to shine the light on yourself, to see how you are doing, where you are with your goals and what you need to find joy.”
Mackenzie Bestold, a Lake Geneva Haven retreat participant, echoes this sentiment. “My biggest takeaway was that sometimes we all need a little time to ourselves to recharge and reflect,” she explains. “I walked away feeling energized and empowered after spending time with other inspiring women and participating in the retreat activities. I learned that investing in oneself is never a bad investment. It was money and time well spent.” She’s now a marketing director and empowerment coach for the retreats.
Shawna Huffman Owen has attended several SALVEO Lifestyle retreats and says that the experiences have made “a difference in the way I love my life.”
WHY LAKE GENEVA?
Women’s retreats may be happening all over the country, but these organizers believe that Lake Geneva is a particularly idyllic place to hold them, due to the beautiful natural setting, supportive local community and convenient geographic location.
“Lake Geneva is a gorgeous setting and an easy getaway from… Chicago,” O’Connor Cole of Chicago’s SALVEO Lifestyle says. “It is a lovely place to reconnect with nature, which helps you reconnect with yourself. The natural beauty of the lake itself is so special — anytime you’re near water, it is a great time to be reflective. I find that the lake stirs my soul and encourages me to look within.”
Quinn feels that Lake Geneva provides a variety of unique spaces where retreats and activities can be held, and that the local business community is particularly encouraging. “There are more local, women-owned businesses and leaders coming together to create these offerings because the need for them is felt on a deeply intuitive level,” she says. “People are starting to realize that these weekends can be more than shopping and restaurants. Women supporting women is happening in the Lakes area, and it’s a matter of finding the right retreat for you.”