Somewhere between slipping your feet into the sand for the first time and reading the last page of a good book, your last vacation worked its healing powers. Beyond the obvious fact that taking time off helps us relax and recharge, there is growing evidence to support the notion that people who schedule time for vacations and leisure activities enjoy improved mental and physical health, become better workers, improve their bonds with loved ones and may even live longer than those who skimp on time off. Not bad for a few days in flip-flops. Think of vacations not as luxuries, but necessities for rejuvenating yourself and improving your health—and enjoy the fruits of your lack of labor.
Vacation and Your Mental Health
Allowing yourself a break from everyday stressors, time to reconnect with family and friends and a chance to catch up on rest can have a tremendous effect on your mental health. A study published in the Wisconsin Medical Journal found that women who vacation frequently are less likely to become anxious, tense, depressed, tired or dissatisfied with their marriage, compared to women who don’t take regular vacations. And you don’t need to schedule a monthly getaway to reap the benefits: Women who scheduled in just two vacations per year were far more likely to be happier, both in their work and home lives, than those who took time off less frequently.
Vacation and Your Physical Health
Taking a break—even one that lasts just 60 seconds—can lower stress levels, increase the production of mood-boosting endorphins and bring your heart rate down. Now stretch that break over a few days or even a week, and the physical benefits only increase. In fact, regular vacations may help you reduce your risk for heart disease and avoid common health problems, such as high blood pressure. One study of men who were considered at high-risk for coronary heart disease found that those who took an annual vacation lowered their overall chances of death by 20 percent and their chances of death from heart disease by 30 percent.
Vacation and Your Work Performance
Occupational experts have long stressed the importance of personal time and vacation days, which have been shown to decrease employee sick time and increase productivity. Yet a study conducted by the Families and Work Institute revealed that more than one-third of employees do not plan to take their full annual vacation time. It can feel difficult to let go of work for longer than a few days, particularly when technology enables you to stay connected to your office at all times. But unplugging and taking a vacation, it turns out, can actually make you a better worker. Studies have found that people who take a vacation return to work feeling more relaxed and energized. They describe themselves as more efficient and even tend to think of their jobs as more interesting than they did before taking a break.
While some people who take regular vacations report positive effects that last, others find them to be short-lived, returning to work after an extended break feeling overwhelmed by and anxious about what they now have ahead of them. One way to hold on to the healing benefits of your vacation is to simply start thinking about your next one. Even if you can’t take another trip in the near future, the simple act of planning a holiday has been shown to increase perceived happiness, indicating that the anticipation of a vacation alone can have a powerful effect on how you feel.