A recent Cadillac commercial boasts of our work-driven society. An actor, portraying a wealthy, middle-aged man, scoffs at countries where people take a month-long sabbatical, in comparison to the typical U.S. vacation of two weeks. The ad has received mixed reviews, including criticism for celebrating what many people see as a problem in our country – our failure to take a break. And by break, they’re not talking about an afternoon off here and there, but a vacation where you make the conscious effort to unplug from the daily grind.
Why is taking a vacation so important? A variety of experts agree that time away for relaxation is critical to one’s mental and physical health. In the book, America’s Vacation Deficit Disorder: Who Stole Your Vacation, author William D. Chalmers cautions that Americans are suffering the consequences of no time off through lost productivity, job burnout, depression and premature death.
According to a report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research titled, “No-Vacation Nation,” the “United States is the only advanced economy that does not guarantee its workers any paid vacation time and is one of only a few rich countries that does not require employers to offer at least some paid holidays.”[pullquote]“I wish we would adopt the European approach, which allows for five weeks off a year. Having a break, whether in town or not, allows you to step away from the daily routine.”[/pullquote]
Irene Warwick, a licensed and board certified professional counselor at St. John Outpatient Behavioral Health Services in Tulsa, believes vacations should be mandatory.
“Vacations are a vital component of good self-care,” she says. “I wish we would adopt the European approach, which allows for five weeks off a year. Having a break, whether in town or not, allows you to step away from the daily routine. It gives you some emotional distance, which can help your perspective in general.”
Warwick says the mental and emotional benefits from a vacation can include reconnecting with yourself, friends or family and time to identify other priorities often be pushed aside due to work.
“Physical benefits include more rest, improved sleep, fewer headaches and possibly more physical activity impacting overall health,” she says. “Vacations are reminders to have fun in life.”
Dr. Lauren Hopkins, a family medicine physician with Mercy Clinic Primary Care – Edmond Memorial, also believes that it is essential to break free from the regular routine. She highlights additional health rewards, such as an increased motivation to achieve goals, a boost in happiness, decreased depression, anxiety and blood pressure and increased creativity, productivity and mental clarity.
While time away is meant to be relaxing and refreshing, many people find the planning and preparation for a trip stressful. Then, upon return, they feel thrown into a frenzy of playing catch-up, both personally and professionally, to make up for the days they were gone. In addition, individuals may feel guilty for being out of the office or worry about job security.
To help avoid this scenario, Hopkins recommends, if possible, for people to take a day off before or after their vacation to pack or unpack, sort mail and complete errands.
“Try to eliminate distractions while on vacation and be present with your loved ones during the trip,” she says.
Warwick agrees and adds it’s important to stay optimistic.
“Start preparing early to avoid last-minute stressors. Cover your bases so that while you are gone, you can feel like things are taken care of,” she says. “Incorporating a new mindset is imperative. For example, remind yourself that vacations are a benefit you have worked hard for. Let go of thinking no one else can do the job but you. Trust that your coworkers know how to manage on their own, and remind yourself that the job will still be there when you return. Vacations are actually good for job security, as the employee usually comes back rested and rejuvenated.”
If jetting away for a week or two to an exotic locale doesn’t fit your budget or schedule, you can still reap the same health benefits through a staycation.
“Discover places within town that you can visit. Go to a park, a museum, the lake or antique shopping,” says Warwick. “The key is to stay in the present moment, really enjoying the outings as if you were in another state or country.”
Warwick offers a reminder to put away technology for the day – let emails and phones calls go unanswered.
“Let work know you are on vacation and not available,” Warwick says. “Let go of the to-do list to avoid working on home projects your whole vacation.”
Hopkins also encourages individuals to take time for themselves, whether they are traveling or not.
“Sometimes just staying at home and pursuing personal interests, such as reading or gardening, allows you to take a break from the grind of everyday life and work,” says Hopkins. “If children are involved, plan a weekend for them with grandparents or other family you trust while you stay at home and relax. Try to enjoy simple pleasures such as a picnic, a walk around your neighborhood or even visit local attractions in your city.”