Deborah Rozman

Scrapping a vacation is not the best for your health

A view of the sunset as seen from the Disney Dream on June 14, 2015. (Photo by Todd DeFeo)

Are you considering skipping vacation again this year because you’re just too busy? Many people dread the “vacation tax” each time they take time off.

This term has become popular as it describes the extra time and energy it takes to prepare for a few days off and then the extra time it takes to catch up on the back log when we return. It’s also common to spend the first part of a vacation worrying about what we forgot to do before we can really unwind.

According to a U.S. Travel Association Report, 40 percent of employees in the U.S. do not take all their vacation days. The report found that some people feel nobody can fill their shoes in their absence, or they dread the mountain of work waiting to greet them on return from holiday.

While scrapping vacation might seem easier than having to deal with the preparation and backlog, it may not be the best thing for our health. Our heavy workloads can be the cause of stress and stress-related issues, such as gastrointestinal complaints and sleep disorders.

Working too much can also lead to depression. A study published in Journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine found that employees who worked long hours and had high job demand were at higher risk of depression.

Even if we take a vacation, but work long hours every day without taking a real break during the day, we’re still putting our health at risk. A research team from the University College Lunden studied 7000 workers over 11 years, and established how many hours they worked on average a day, along with heart health data. The team found that those who work 11-hour days or more increase their chance of a heart attack by two thirds.

Many European countries require employees take their paid vacations and their productivity increased as a result. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, some of these countries finished ahead of the U.S. in 2013 in gross domestic product per capita, the favored metric for workforce productivity.

Studies have shown that taking vacation time can make us more productive, and employees that do engage in a little R & R time, feel less stressed and refreshed upon returning to work, and they have a better attitude towards work.

We don’t have to be the next stress statistic. If we fit the profile of a workaholic, we can start now to take steps to replenish our energy.

Let’s give ourselves permission and time to practice self-care, allowing for some inner-reflection, and quality time to nurture relationships. Vacation time, even mini-vacations, can help increase our overall wellness:

6 Mind/Body Benefits of Vacation

  • Making time for your family and friends strengthens connections and helps to nourish your mental and emotional health.
  • Allowing for casual downtime gives your mind and body time to rest.
  • Temporarily ditching your routine allows your adventurous side to step out and explore.
  • A change in scenery can usher in a fresh energy and perspective about life.
  • Vacations allow us to be outside more and enjoy nature – revitalizing our sense of wonder.
  • Stepping away from work and routines can often inspire ideas, solutions and new ways of handling complex situations.

Okay, so we’re ready to reclaim our personal balance – the next step is to look at how to plan a vacation wisely and avoid vacation exhaustion.

Vacation exhaustion – an oxymoron – but it perfectly describes what can happen when we try and cram our time off with too much. While this may be fun for some, many of us find a real vacation means less doing and more being.

Here are some additional ways we can make our vacation time a renewing experience.

10 Tips for a Regenerating Vacation:

  1. If you’re a Type A planner, try letting go of lists and plans, or at least allow for some open spaces. Many times the most fun experiences come from being completely spontaneous. Give yourself permission to go with the flow and be open to unplanned get-togethers or outings.
  2. Be conscious of letting the small stuff go. Resist spending time worrying about uncontrollable things; be in the moment so you can enjoy more of your time off.
  3. You don’t have to go far to have fun. Staycations have become more popular. Exploring the local area can result in some great finds and equally fun memories. Try camping locally or even in your backyard. Or take a day trip to explore a park or beach you haven’t been to.
  4. When vacation time includes family and friends, it’s good to allow for a designated time when people can do different things. We don’t all have the exact same needs or wants. Discuss everyone’s desires and find the right balance. Not every activity has to include everyone. Maybe during free time a small group goes shopping while the others go on a bike ride.
  5. Allow time to really unplug – leave the cell phone turned off and that computer at home. If that’s not possible only allow yourself one or two brief check-ins and only address urgent issues that cannot wait. Be honest and selective about when you really must engage verses truly unplugging.
  6. Since you’re probably not the only one with a cell phone, computer or tablet, make a “family & friends unplugged” agreement. Not every meal and every moment needs to be chronicled or insta-shared with photos and selfies. Agree on what hours of each day everyone promises to stay unplugged.
  7. Be sure to do things that promote rest and relaxation such as a leisurely walks in the morning or evenings, an afternoon nap, an evening swim, sitting and listening to nature. Don’t succumb to internet surfing and reading emails or it can hook you right back in and eat up your vacation time. Instead play a board game, break out a deck of cards, or read a book. It’s surprising how much fun these “retro” activities can be when you let go of routine.
  8. Make a conscious effort to pause, and feel special moments – have the intention to imprint these moments in your heart and mind. Really pay attention to positive moments, to how things look and sound, and to how you feel. Intentionally savoring experiences helps you to more easily recall with gratitude the fun or uplifting feelings later when you want to regenerate.
  9. Perhaps this vacation is a perfect time to re-up your skills at managing stress. After all, practicing when things are quieter is a better plan than trying to learn a new skill in the midst of a crisis. There are numerous books, CD programs and apps that can help. For example the iOS based Inner Balance is like a personal trainer. It provides a specialized 3-step technique, and real-time feedback to retrain your mind body response to stress. If you don’t have an iOS device there are mobile tools that do not require IOS or Android platforms.
  10. Allow a little time to reintegrate before you return to work. It can be especially helpful for families that come home with lots of laundry and an empty fridge. It gives everybody a day to adjust before the routines kick in.

Remember that vacation is important for self-care and renewal, and for cultivating good heart connections with family or friends. So throw out the excuses. Give the mind a break from meetings, e-mails, reports and spreadsheets– anything that relates to work. Go watch the kids play at the beach, sit outside and enjoy the sounds of nature, camp in your backyard, take a daytrip to a museum, discover a new restaurant, or just drive down a country road and visit a great vineyard.

The objective is to make some time to enjoy life!

About Deborah Rozman
Deborah Rozman, Ph.D. is a behavioral psychologist with 30 years of experience as entrepreneur, business executive, educator, and author. She is the President and CEO of HeartMath®, a world leader in heart rate variability (HRV) stress management and wellness. HeartMath and its sister company, the nonprofit HeartMath Institute, have spent over two decades researching and educating consumers about HRV feedback and coherence training, and its vital role in stress relief, increasing vitality and wellness. Deborah has penned a dozen books herself, and co-authored with Doc Childre the Transforming book series, published by New Harbinger. The series includes five titles, including Transforming Stress: The HeartMath Solution for Relieving Worry, Fatigue, and Tension. Deborah also oversees strategic alliances and the expansion of HeartMath technologies worldwide. Major brands including Samsung, Qualcomm and Red Bull Media are working with HeartMath, due to its expertise and depth of data for HRV assessments, monitoring and stress reduction training.