“This vacation helped me re-enter the world as a healthy and well-adjusted human,” said Mr. A, a senior manager who I recently got to know a few weeks after he returned from a long-anticipated trip to Reykjavík.
His story has been the trigger that tempted me do a lot of research on “why is vacation important”. Despite his struggle with generalized anxiety disorder for most of his life, long before he even knew it had a name, his symptoms had been well controlled for years.
Perhaps this is why he proudly assumed he would be immune to the agony of the exhausting existence that is an “executive manager.” He believed he would be able to channel his daily stress into productivity.
That was until a couple of years ago when his anxiety insidiously crept back from the hinterlands of the amygdala, creating a constant and irrational loop in his mind of all the things that could go wrong. What if I make an idiot of myself at the party? Will I make it in time for the meeting? What if I screw up tomorrow’s presentation? Did I leave the heater on?
It is that kind of anxiety that makes you feel incredibly tired and overwhelmed when facing the simplest of tasks. The kind of anxiety that doesn’t stop even when you see the heater is off.
“After I’ve made it through the day, I go home,” said Mr. A. “I crawl under the covers and scrutinize each and every word, interaction and action that had taken place that day until I feel sick to my stomach.”
He admits that he always knew he could use some time off, but like many of you, he thought he had too much to do and would rather just spend the weekend home and stay in his cool dark room, distracting himself with mindless television shows.
Anxiety was keeping him from trying out anything that sounded remotely unfamiliar. Eventually, he made the decision to try and fight that shadow inside him.
According to him, travel and vacation have been a major component of keeping it at bay and helping cure his crippling anxiety.
No one argues that vacation is important for our minds and bodies, but the real problem is that no one thinks it is crucial enough to be a commitment.
Unfortunately, that makes it so much easier for the anxiety monster inhabiting our brains to provide endless excuses that kill any idea of going on vacation before it can be transformed into action.
According to recent survey, the average U.S. employee only takes half of his permitted vacation time.
Furthermore, among those who actually do go on vacation, three in five admitted to doing some work while vacationing, and a quarter of them were contacted by a coworker or supervisor about a work-related matter.
Taking vacations on a regular basis isn’t a luxury or an option you can just skip. It is a priority and basic requirement essential to maintaining and promoting your physical and mental health.
It prevents a variety of diseases and helps you recover from the stress you face in your daily life.
Here are my top reasons, backed by scientific research, why vacations are important.
1. Vacation Reduces Stress and Depressive Symptoms
One of the principal reasons why vacation is important is the fact that they markedly reduce stress levels by removing people from the environment they associate with stress and anxiety.
Moreover, several scientific studies have concluded that vacation is associated with fewer physical complaints related to stress, such as headaches, back pain, and heart rate irregularities.
In one study, data were collected from forty middle managers, after one week at a resort. The results indicated that one single short-term vacation has large positive and immediate effects on perceived stress, recovery, strain, mood and general well-being.
Interestingly, these effects were still detected six weeks after the managers were back from vacation!
Another study showed that taking a vacation is associated with lower stress on a molecular level by observing a decreased expression of FOXO3, a gene that orchestrates the stress response in the body. In fact, lower levels of FOXO3 are also proven to have a remarkable antidepressant effect.
Researchers suggest that even a short-term vacation might have beneficial effects on one’s well-being, strain level and stress.
In fact, it seems that short vacation of four nights is long enough to fully recover from daily work-related stressors, yet short enough to limit the pile of work you have to face upon your return, which is why it’s important to take periodic not overly lengthy vacations.
2. Vacation Can Cut Your Risk for Alzheimer’s Disease
This one is the probably the most interesting on this list. Vacation has been proven to reduce your risk of developing Alzheimer’s on a subcellular level!
One of the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease is the accumulation of hard, insoluble plaques between the nerve cells in the brain, a process that contributes in a major way to the dramatic neuronal degeneration observed in Alzheimer’s disease. These protein plaques consist primarily of Aβ40 protein.
A recent study measured Aβ40 levels after four days of vacation and found a significant reduction in its level in all participants!
The same study showed a decrease in the expression of CLU and PSEN1, two genes confirmed to be implicated in Alzheimer’s disease.
3. Vacation Improves Sleep
Good quality sleep is one of the major ways to help your body and mind recover if you suffer from stress at work. Unfortunately, job stress and poor sleep often go hand in hand. Stress leads to a loss of sleep and a loss of sleep leads to an increase in stress, which then becomes a vicious cycle that ultimately leads to less focus, less alertness, impaired memory, and a decreased quality of life.
What’s even more alarming is the fact that the combined effect of work stress and impaired sleep is linked to a threefold higher risk of cardiovascular death in patients with hypertension.
Researchers say that vacations can help interrupt the factors that interfere with normal sleep, such as working late at night, drinking too much caffeine or checking work emails before bedtime.
Indeed, one study found that vacationers tend to show marked improvement in both sleep quality and quantity. Taking regular vacations is important to restore and maintain a normal sleep pattern.
4. Vacation Protect Against Heart Disease
Perhaps the best evidence of the benefits of vacations is highlighted in the landmark Framingham Heart Study, a long-term, ongoing cardiovascular study launched in 1948.
The study revealed that men who skipped vacation for several years were 30% more likely to develop heart attacks compared to men who took a vacation for at least one week a year.
Similarly, women who took a vacation only once every six years or less were almost eight times more likely to have a heart attack compared to those who vacationed at least twice a year.
Based on these findings, the study reported that skipping even one year’s vacation time may be associated with increased risk of heart disease.
5. Vacation Improves Productivity
Vacation is not about escaping or running away from one’s responsibilities. They are about being incredibly present and mindful in whatever new thing you may be experiencing, and that’s the real reason why vacations are important.
This mindfulness and gratitude for the present moment helps to halt the wicked cycle of worry that sours our minds. Vacation time, in turn, restocks your energy stores, making work seem much easier when you get back to your office.
The professional services firm, Ernst & Young, conducted an internal study of its employees and found that for each additional ten hours of vacation time, their year-end performance ratings improved 8%.
6. Meditation While on Vacation =Loads of Extra Benefits!
Compared to simple rest and relaxation alone, engaging in mindfulness exercises while on vacation can have many superadded positive effects on health and well-being.
One study showed that individuals who practiced meditation during a four-day retreat had a significant increase in blood telomerase activity. Telomerase is an enzyme that functions to make our DNA longer. Hence it preserves cell DNA and literally increases cell survival and its ability to divide over time.
A shorter DNA length appear to be an indicator that predicts the onset of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, stroke, dementia and other degenerative conditions such as osteoarthritis and osteoporosis, as well as certain cancers.
In other words, mediation works to combat ill health by increasing telomerase enzyme activity, slowing cellular aging and delaying the onset of the most common human debilitating diseases.
In addition, meditation and yoga boost immunity, increase the body’s defenses against viral infections and promote more complex genetic effects related to healthier aging.
So, what are you waiting for? Don’t overthink it, plan your trip, pack your bags and go!
You’ll understand why vacations are important and come back as an enhanced version of yourself; it’s all good for business!