Q: Why are we as humans wired to need vacations and holidays? Is there something in our brains that actually needs a break to rest and recover from our usual cognitive activities?
A: “When you start planning a vacation, even if you don’t take one, it can improve your frame of mind. An improved mood or mental ‘lift’ can start to kick in immediately. The ‘restoration process’ when you take vacation is also called ‘recovery’ – reversing the negative effects of working too much. There’s recovery through both the release from job demands and through engagement in self-chosen and pleasant activities. When you are constantly going and under pressure, stress hormones can spike, which can affect your health. Depending on the person, this may translate into more colds, headaches and getting sick more often. When you relax, sleep and eat properly, you help get your health back in balance.”
Q: Are there actual health or brain benefits that come from disconnecting and stepping away from work and our usual routines?
A: “There are many benefits. For example, relaxing may lower your cortisol or stress hormones. It is important to rest, refresh and decrease the chance of mental burnout. You want to power back up mentally and physically. Some research shows that connecting to what you enjoy and getting the proper nutrition, exercise and sleep can help optimize levels of serotonin and dopamine. Serotonin (a neurotransmitter that helps maintain mood balance) helps you feel good, and dopamine is part of your brain's reward center.”
Q: Why does it seem that some of us get sick as soon as we finally go on vacation or take time off? What can we do to lessen those odds?
A: “If you travel and attend events during peak cold flu season, be sure to wash your hands frequently and avoid touching your nose, rubbing your eyes or touching your mouth, as this is an easy way to pick up germs. Keep in mind that using hand sanitizer can help, but know that for some bugs like norovirus, frequent hand washing and avoiding people who may be sick are essential. In addition, depending on where you are traveling, you may need certain vaccinations ahead of time and may need to take certain meds with you. Be sure to check with your healthcare provider for any health recommendations prior to travel."
Q: How long do those positive effects of going “on holiday” last? And do we benefit equally whether our vacations are long or short?
A: “A lot of the research shows the benefits may last up to three to four weeks but then may fade out. The effects of a short vacation of four to five days may be just as powerful as a longer vacation. Depending on the person, it may be even more beneficial to schedule several short vacations as opposed to one long vacation. Also, research shows that appropriate physical activity during these vacations may contribute even more to a positive experience.”
Q: From a psychological perspective, how does taking time off and disconnecting help us live more fully in general?
A: “Ideally, you could remove yourself from thoughts of work. That’s where a short vacation may be more beneficial, because on a longer one you’re always checking in. Nonetheless, it doesn't appear to be an all-or-nothing effect. If you need to check in, then do so. While the mental boost you may get from completely disengaging may be a bit higher than if you follow up on a few things, it is still better than not going at all."