Everybody needs a vacation, but our work-a-holic culture likes to guilt us into thinking our workplaces and families can’t do without us. That leads us to leave 429 million paid vacation days on the table every year.
Vacations are the essence of life. All is not—and should not be—work, no matter how much you love your job. Our European friends have the right idea—all European Union countries mandate at least four weeks of paid vacation per year plus as many as 13 holidays. Compare that to an average of 16 days a year, including holidays, for American workers. Even then, only about 25% of Americans take all their vacation days and more than 60% of us work while we’re on vacation. You get the point: We’re worn out with little time to re-charge.
I’ve just returned form a delightful two-week European vacation. Planned with just the right balance of sightseeing and relaxation. There’s nothing like a terrace apartment overlooking a Parisian park!
I advise you to do the same.
Stress reduction: Down-time has the obvious benefit of reducing stress. Since we know that stress is the underlying cause of most physical ailments and the cause of about 90% of visits to the doctor, it goes without saying that kicking back and getting away from the daily grind will improve your overall health. A study from the Mountain Sinai School of Medicine shows that down time actually improves immune response and re-sets your body’s ability to cope with the stressors we all face very day.
Heart health: This probably relates directly to stress reduction, but a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that men who take frequent vacations are 32% less likely to die from heart disease than their workaholic co-workers who shunned vacation time. The Framingham Heart study confirmed the same effect for women: those who took vacations once every six years were eight times more likely to have a heart attack than those who took a vacation at least once every two years.
Mental health: Women who got at least two vacations a year were far less likely to become depressed and fatigued and were more satisfied with their marriages, says a study of rural Wisconsin women.
A Purdue study confirmed the general feeling of well-being and family unity that comes from shared vacation experiences.
Expands your brain: Being in a new environment actually improves the way your brain responds to various types of stimulation. These experiences get your brain off auto-pilot and improves neural connections that improve memory and make you more creative.
Digital detox: There’s no question about it: many of us are addicted to our digital devices. If you’re on a desert island or remote mountaintop retreat, there may be no choice but to unplug. But science tells us that it is urgent that we unplug voluntarily from time to time and what better time than on vacation? Just a few studies show us that social media promotes narcissism, smartphones cause insomnia and screen time makes our kids less empathetic.
Attitude adjustment: When employees take a vacation, they benefit from the space from work, but so do their employers and the economy. The Vacation Deprivation study determined that 34% of those studied said they felt better about their jobs and were more productive after a vacation. One interesting experiment took 35 CEOs, entrepreneurs and movers and shakers into the Moroccan desert without their devices. In a day, people made more eye contact and connected more deeply with each other. In a few days, their memories improved, they engaged in conversation more and slept better.
If these health benefits don’t persuade you to take a little time on a breezy beach or a stroll through Medieval streets of a European capital or hiking our pristine mountain trails, probably nothing will. Why not just stop, take a deep breath and re-consider?