23 Aug The Importance of Vacations to Our Physical and Mental Health
Among the many debates swirling through the nation’s circle of pundits each year is whether nation’s leaders should take time off in the summer for their yearly recess. As it turns out, though it may seem that they’re being irresponsible, perhaps they’re doing the right thing. Everyone needs a vacation once in a while.
Though the average citizen may not experience the kind of mega-stress of a nationally elected leader, all of us have our own home-grown version of job-related stress. We may face the burden of meeting tight deadlines, making crucial decisions, or managing the complexities of household demands. Our stress may also include the stress of being under- or unemployed. All adults have lives that are filled with some form of stress, even if we don’t truly acknowledge this fact.
Chronic stress takes its toll in part on our body’s ability to resist infection, maintain vital functions, and even ability to avoid injury. When you’re stressed out and tired, you are more likely to become ill, your arteries take a beating, and you’re more likely to have an accident. Your sleep will suffer, you won’t digest your food as well, and even the genetic material in the cells of your body may start to become altered in a bad way. Mentally, not only do you become more irritable, depressed, and anxious, but your memory will become worse and you’ll make poorer decisions. You’ll also be less fun to be with, causing you to become more isolated, lonely, and depressed.
Clearly, then, stress is not a good thing. Even people who claim to love the high-pressured lifestyle will admit, in their quieter moments, that there are times when they just want to get away from it all, if only for a short time.
Vacations have the potential to break into the stress cycle. We emerge from a successful vacation feeling ready to take on the world again. We gain perspective on our problems, get to relax with our families and friends, and get a break from our usual routines. That’s if the vacation is “successful.” Later, I’ll talk about ways to guarantee that you do have a successful vacation experience rather than one that could be chronicled as a “National Lampoon” movie. For now, though, let’s look at some of that evidence.
In a 2009 study, Canadian researchers Joudrey and Wallace reported that “active” leisure pursuits (such as golf!) and taking vacations helped to buffer or ameliorate the job stress among a sample of almost 900 lawyers. British researcher Scott McCabe noted that vacations’ “personal benefits have been found to include: rest and recuperation from work; provision of new experiences leading to a broadening of horizons and the opportunity for learning and intercultural communication; promotion of peace and understanding; personal and social development; visiting friends and relatives; religious pilgrimage and health; and, subjective wellbeing” (p. 667). McCabe believes these positive benefits to be so strong that he recommends that families be given some form of financial assistance if they are unable to afford vacations on their own.
The benefits of vacations extend to family relationships. An international group of researchers led by Purdue University Xinran Lehto concluded that family vacations contribute positively to family bonding, communication and solidarity. Vacations promote what is called the “crescive bond” (in sociological parlance, a “shared experience”) by fostering growing and enduring connections. Shared family memories and time spent together isolated from ordinary everyday activities (school, work, and so on) help to promote these positive ties. Though family vacations can have their own share of stress, the benefits outweigh the risks, even in families that are not particularly close, according to Lehto and co-authors.
Ready to hop off Psych Today and hop on to Expedia to book your next vacation? Of course it might not be so easy. Until the word gets out and the government or private charities start issuing vacation stimulus packages, you may not be in a position to fly up, up, and away. There are also many ways to benefit from a “stay-cation” (where you don’t venture further than your state, town or city, or even neighborhood). But for now, if you’re able to and ready, here are some ways to make sure that you actually benefit from every penny spent on that hard-earned adventure:
1. “Plan ahead” (put in quotes because you’ve certainly heard this one before!): Do your online research and make sure you know what’s available in your vacation destination. It’s frustrating to find out too late that if you had just done a bit of googling you’d have found the ideal beach, mountain, museum, park, etc. etc. Planning ahead will also minimize family stress while on that vacation especially if you’ve pre-agreed on an itinerary. This will also make it possible for you to determine ahead of time whether some or all of you want to go bungee jumping vs. museum-hopping.
2. Know the rules and regulations: Airlines are notoriously pulling bait-and-switch tactics in which they advertise one set of fares and then jack the prices up with ludicrous fees. Spirit Airlines most recently caught fire for their decision to charge for carry-on luggage. There are some good websites (link is external) out there with advice on how to avoid some of these charges. Know your country’s safety rules and regulations as well. If you don’t want to give up your cherished Swiss Army knife, for example, you’ll need to remember to pack it in checked bags or leave it at home altogether.
3. Don’t feel guilty because you’re going on vacation.
To read full article, visit Psychology Today.