Why Some Vacation — But Not Too Much — is Essential for Your Health

This summer, turn off your phone and reclaim your well-deserved vacation time.

A hammock in the foreground with a palm beach umbrella stuck in the water
Wikimedia / Danapit

Americans place a premium on working hard, and with the prevalence of digital devices, our dwindling free time is often bombarded with work texts and emails. There are those who believe they can work 24/7 and still maintain their health and sanity, but for most of us, going at that clip will eventually run us into the ground.

Time off from work, whether it’s a vacation or a staycation, is essential, though some still perceive it to be a luxury. According to recent research from Project: Time Off, 52 percent of Americans left vacation time unused last year. Many people report the cost of travel and childcare as deterrents to vacation, in addition to factors like heavy workload and concerns about how it’ll affect promotions.

Also, many newer companies that have younger workforces have been introducing “unlimited” vacation time as a competitive perk, but there’s been backlash as many companies and employees have realized that not having dedicated days off means many people actually take fewer days off due to the ambiguity. Some companies, like Kickstarter, have actually gotten rid of “unlimited” vacation policies and instead are giving a generous amount of set days so employees can have clearer guidelines.

While American workers did take more days off in 2017 than any year prior since 2010 (17.2 days was the average), those who do take time off don’t always use it for exploration and rejuvenation. According to the research, American workers use less than half of the time they do take (only eight days) to actually travel. And those who do take time off often spend some of that time working.

America: This summer, turn off your phone and reclaim your well-deserved vacation time. Not just because you’re feeling burned out, but because numerous scientific studies have demonstrated how important time off is for your health in every sense.

You needn’t go on a long, extravagant getaway — even a relaxing week at home gardening, going on walks, exploring museums, or whatever else your heart desires is proven to be rejuvenating for your body, mind, and spirit.

One Finnish study in 2012 found that even a short vacation is beneficial for wellbeing and your functional capacity. Taking a break from work, doing physical activity, doing activities that give you pleasure can help you restore the resources you’ve used up from working, the study abstract says.

Another study found that three days after a vacation, workers had improved quality in sleep and mood and fewer physical complains than before vacation. Five weeks after their vacation, the subjects still had fewer physical complaints due to the recuperation their time off work gave them.

A different study found that vacation can help decrease rumination and obsession about work during off-the-job time and improve overall well-being. As Inc points out, other research has shown that vacationing reduces stress, can help prevent heart disease, improves workplace productivity, and helps you sleep better.

Feeling inspired to finally ask for some time off? Great. But know that you don’t need to go on a three-week European backpacking adventure to get the aforementioned benefits.

As we wrote last summer, the second week of vacation isn’t as beneficial as the first, since the novelty wears off and you may not even remember the second week.

One week is perfectly adequate, and make sure to enjoy the process of planning it: according to other studies, a lot of the happiness people get from vacation comes during the planning of the trip.

So pick out your vacation spot for a week and spend the next few months savoring the planning and shivering with antici…pation. It’s proven that you’ll come back to work a much more sane, healthy, and productive person. Thanks, science.

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