We are all excited about the idea of taking a vacation, but sadly there’s a combination of good and bad whenever going on a vacation. The good news is that vacations tend to lower stress levels, balance emotions and restore energy. The bad news is that often enough, after returning from a vacation, those particular levels go back to their original state or even lower. That’s not always the case, of course – but there is something to be learned about how, why and where should a vacation be considered in order to get the most out of it.
The Medical, Mental, and Productivity Benefits Behind Taking Vacations
We are part of a workaholic generation. We tend to get incredibly caught up in our work and less interested in taking some time off, letting go or handling other issues in the process. Studies taken by Expedia.com have shown that about 1/3 of the employed US population does not take all their available vacation days. That is quite alarming giving how tired we are all growing.
The even more alarming studies from the Bureau of Labor Statistics clearly mentioning that there are numerous companies in the private sector that give no paid vacation.
But why is this relevant? After all, it should be everyone’s choice whether they need a vacation or not. Some people say they like the thrill of being constantly busy and overwhelmed, while others don’t feel the stress of a full-time job. Regardless what the truth might be, studies have shown that the chances for developing coronary heart disease or a heart attack were far smaller in individuals that took one or two vacations per year versus those that took a vacation every six years. The risk was about 8 times higher.
Other health issues such as obesity, diabetes have also been directly linked to prolonged periods of high levels of stress. While you, as an individual might not directly respond to the way your body reacts to stress, internally a series of processes will take their toll on you sooner or later. It’s not only about cutting down on your cholesterol levels and eating less sugar. It’s also about how much you relax.
Not only will taking vacations lower risk of health problems, but you’ll also be more productive and motivated. Numerous studies have shown that taking vacations leads to higher productivity. A 2006 study by Ernst & Young found that each 10 hours of vacation taken leads to 8 percent of increased productivity. In a 2007 Business Week reported that the lack of vacation time leads to increased errors at work and workplace resentment. Francine Lederer told ABC News that vacations (even if it’s just a 24-hour break) leads to a better life perspective and increased motivation.
The Benefits of Traveling Are Short-Lived (read, You Should Take Vacations Often)
One can certainly see the correlation between stress levels going down when going on a vacation, and going up again when returning. But until recently, nobody knew exactly how bad it was. The truth is, it’s not only about flying off to Bahamas for the weekend – it’s about planning it, so you can take some rush out of that as well. A series of studies have shown that the anticipation of a trip tends to brush off about 10-20 percent out of higher stress levels.
Of course, in the time after the vacation, happiness levels tend to decrease slowly but surely. But what can you do to prolong it? Make sure you enjoy your time there, try taking it in as often as possible, and sleep more than you can think.
Two studies presented by the Wall Street Journal nail down a couple of aspects on how to handle your vacation time. It’s mostly about a delicate balance between proper planning and letting everything go for a change.
Planning That Perfect Vacation
There’s no such thing as a perfect vacation – but there is such a thing as a relaxing vacation. Planning is essential to a great vacation; research has shown that planning and anticipating for a vacation is correlated with increased happiness. Here are a few pointers to consider whenever planning a vacation:
1.) Make sure you get plenty of sleep – Travelling takes it out of you. Make sure you count two days out of your vacation for decompressing. You will be stuck in airports and planes for about a day, and why not take advantage and sleep 14 hours when you arrive at your destination? Aside from this, in order to preserve those important happiness levels after the trip, you might want to keep a decent 8 to 10 hours sleep schedule throughout the holiday, or else you’ll return far more tired than you left.
2.) Travel somewhere that means something to you – Some people relax when going to their favorite childhood place. Other people enjoy places of incredible luxury while others want something simple but elegant. Regardless of what your taste in travel might be, make sure you choose something that makes you embrace the idea fully; something that you are looking forward to like nothing else. That will create a feeling of anticipation that will raise your mood levels significantly.
3.) Pamper yourself – Most of the year we compromise. We don’t go to a massage parlor because we don’t have the time, we don’t exercise often enough because we feel we don’t have the energy or our schedule is already too full. You have one week ahead of you to take care of yourself. Exercise on a daily basis, go swimming, go to a massage place or pamper yourself with all sorts of exotic treatments. Visit restaurants you wouldn’t normally go to just to try out something new. This way, you will rely on a full experience for your travelling days.
4.) Get lots of sunlight – If you can find the time and the resources, consider a place with enough sunlight. We all suffer from the office complex with too much artificial lighting and too little sun. Our vitamin D levels are dropping every day and we rarely replenish them. Even if you don’t enjoy sunbathing all that much consider a trip through the mountains at least.
5.) Meet new people – Another effect of a stressful environment is that we never get to chitchat. Not idle chitchat, but something about hobbies and other similar topics. Getting to know people in a foreign land can prove to be beneficial from a mental point of view. You get to meet people without having a business proposal in mind, and you hear about different cultures.
So pack your bags, and see you somewhere out there!