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Vacation for stress relief and mental health boost

Working hard for a long time with no breaks or stress relief leads to decreased mental health and work performance. Taking a vacation is like restarting your computer. The system functions better after it has been powered down for a little while.

Family enjoying the day at the zoo as stress relief while on a vacation
Taking a vacation can reduce your risk for stress-related illnesses. Get the most out of your trip by mixing planned activities and free time.

Vacation works the same way by giving you a break from the high-intensity rhythm of life so you can return refreshed, said Dr. Jennifer Michels, a Marshfield Clinic Health System psychologist.

Going too long without a vacation can negatively affect your physical and mental health.

Vacation for stress relief and mental health boost

People who never take a vacation are vulnerable to stress-related illnesses. Stress plays a role in mental and physical health conditions like depression, anxiety, headaches, pain, gastrointestinal problems and colds.

“Research shows that when you unplug, overall resilience increases,” Michels said. “Creativity, productivity and overall efficiency often increase upon return. Rest may result in a boost to your immune system as well, promoting physical health.”

She recommends a minimum four-day vacation, but a week away is the “sweet spot” for providing the best stress relief.

Preparation for life changes

What better way to prepare for retirement or an emergency than working a lot and saving money?

Try taking a vacation.

“Learning to tolerate down time is important and can help you cope more effectively if you have a major disruption in your life like a health issue or job loss,” Michels said. “People may be at increased risk for mental health difficulties because they haven’t learned how to shift gears.”

The same goes for retirement. For some, a lifetime of unused vacation means difficulty transitioning out of the workforce along with increased risk for depression and anxiety after retiring. If you know when you plan to retire, prepare for it by intentionally practicing leisure a few years before you leave the workforce.

Mix planned activities and free time

Does the idea of a spontaneous trip or a week with nothing to do make you panic?

“Have a mix of structured and unstructured time,” Michels said. “Plan a few activities like biking or going to a museum, then have some days where you let the day unfold.”

Try new activities even if you’re staying home while you’re off work. Don’t spend all your time cleaning and organizing.

Leave work at the office. Set boundaries for yourself if you must work during vacation. Let your colleagues know you’ll only be checking email during certain hours each day and keep that promise to yourself.

Change workplace culture

When no one in the office takes a vacation, it quickly becomes the norm.

Company leaders can change workplace culture by taking vacation to show it’s acceptable. Time off improves organizational well-being and employees’ personal lives.

“It’s important to cultivate a culture within our workplaces that vacation is important and is a sign of health,” Michels said.

For travel questions, talk to a Marshfield Clinic Health System provider.

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