Take a Vacation for Mental Health

vacation beach tropics

Science Says Take A Vacation

Research can now back you up when you say you need a vacation. Mental health professionals say the change of pace and different scenery can have a positive effect on your outlook on life, productivity and creativity. Science is getting more serious about the important health impacts of a vacation. Studies show a vacation can help prevent heart disease in men and women.

Don’t just think “summer vacation.” Break up your routine with an autumn trip to absorb the changing colors of the woodlands. Take a winter trip to go walking in the snow, or if you live in a cold climate, to feel some warm sunshine. And don’t forget Spring. Beautiful flowers are blooming in many places in the spring. And flowers feed the soul.

One important consideration is to make sure you plan a positive vacation. If the plans sound like you’ll be rushing around or creating financial stress, tone it down to a short, inexpensive vacation within driving distance. If being unscheduled is stressful for you and you want your trip to be predictable, go with a tour group. The goal is to “relax.”

A Vacation Helps Prevent Heart Disease

Here’s some scientific evidence to get you started on clearing the decks at work and home, so can you pull yourself out of what often seems the quicksand of our daily lives.

A nine-year study at the State University of New York at Oswego produced some results that are likely going to get you packing your bags. Researchers found that vacationing every year reduced the risk of death from heart disease by up to 30 percent.

The Centers for Disease Control did follow-up research 20 years after women originally participated in what’s called the Framingham Heart Study. What the CDC found is that women who took a vacation only once every six years were nearly eight times more likely to have a heart attack than those who took
at least two vacations a year.

3 Reasons to Take a Vacation

Here are some general reasons to get away from it all for a while.

  1. Decrease Stress: Time away from the usual routine helps break the cycle of stress and can lower your levels of cortisol, the stress hormone that controls the fight-or-flight response. That response is meant to be helpful in a dangerous situation, but chronic stress can activate that response too much and be harmful to your health. Elevated cortisol levels can lead to high blood pressure, fatigue, anxiety and depression.
  2. Write Yourself a New Story: Spending time in a different culture can help free you from who you have to be in your daily life, and that can give you an emotional boost. If your job requires you to be prim and proper, a vacation in a tropical culture might spur you to buy bright clothes or a big floppy hat, and experience the more colorful side of your personality. If you’re usually among lots of people and activity, consider a yoga or mindfulness retreat.
  3. Become More Mentally Resilient: It does take effort to slip into a new environment, even for a week, but you can get a boost in confidence by meeting and enjoying the challenges of a different language and customs. Meeting people from other cultures often boosts our sense of connectedness, and therefore peace of mind, because we understand that people everywhere are alike in so many ways. We work. We all enjoy good food. We love our family and friends and want a peaceful world for ourselves and our children.

Tips for Taking a Truly Relaxing Vacation

  • Be ‘away’ from work: Set the ‘out of office’ message on your email and let coworkers and other associates know you will have limited or no access to email and you’ll contact them when you get back. While we all think we’re indispensable, it can often surprise us how well our colleagues carry on while we’re away.
  • Limit time for texts or emails: If you must check in, for your own peace of mind or that of your family, schedule a time every day, maybe 30 minutes after breakfast or in the evening. The rest of the day, give your full attention to your vacation. You might love to post photos on social media, but understand that being fully where you are on your vacation has a positive psychological and physical impact, so loosen the ties with those back home a bit, and just “be there now.”
  • Take short vacations: If it’s truly difficult to get away for even one or two weeks one or twice a year due to family or work responsibilities, take a few long weekends. Make sure to give yourself enough time to rest from traveling. If you drive 6 hours to get to a lake cottage, that’s not a full vacation day. It’s takes a day to wind down from your usual schedule, so even with a long weekend, plan to have at least two full days when you are really “away.” If it’s a weekend trip, allow some unscheduled time to just relax and do things like sit outside and watch the sunset.
  • Most important is to take a vacation that you look forward to and makes you feel good. That will have positive benefits on your physical and mental health.

    References

    Nazish, Noma, “Five Reasons Why Travel is Good for Your Mental Health,” Forbes,
    Jan. 22, 2018

    Daskal, Lolly, “4 Scientific Reasons Vacations Are Good for Your Health,” Inc.,
    June 13, 2016

    The Heart Health Move You Can’t Afford to Miss,” Cleveland Heart Lab, July 13, 2017

    Health Benefits of Vacations,” healthnet.com, 2019

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