White sand beaches, or maybe a cabin in the mountains… a paradise getaway of your choosing, with cat naps, good books and good friends, miles away from the pings of unending emails and stressful, jam-packed schedules. Ahhh, a blissful, stress-free vacation—can’t you just see it?
Snap back to reality, where unfortunately, taking some time for a little R & R can be downright difficult. If you’re like most Americans, you’re reluctant to even entertain the idea of taking some time off this summer. The economy is still tough, taking time away from work and busy schedules is easier said than done, and sometimes, just planning a vacation can be more stressful than it’s even worth.
But according to multiple studies, depriving yourself of time off can be bad for your health. That’s excellent news for our inner beach bums just yearning for a few days made in the shade, but it’s important to realize why that natural impulse to relax is there, and the serious implications it has for long-term health.
Our minds and our bodies need a balance of activities and emotions to maintain a healthy stability: Tip too far to one side, and everything can come tumbling down. Mental health is dependent on a decent amount of leisure, and research shows that the more you relax and take part in activities that you enjoy, the healthier and happier you’ll be. Lower blood pressure, fewer stress hormones, and healthy weight are all associated with consistent downtime, not to mention better sleep. Seems logical, but it looks like most of us need to be reminded.
In a recent survey, less than half of U.S. employees reported taking the full vacation time they’d been given. Add that to the fact that we get an average of just 12 days each year as compared to Europe’s average of 20, and it appears that we need a serious attitude adjustment. U.S. workers tend to worry that taking vacation time will seem lazy, unmotivated, and unprofessional, and 72 percent of vacationers admit that they still do work on their time off. But experts say that’s bad news for our health—if you don’t really relax on vacation, you might as well not even bother.
This year, ditch the guilt and make an investment in your health. It doesn’t have to be the vacation of a lifetime, but do your best to make it one where you’ll truly find some peace. Plan ahead to avoid the stress of cramming a vacation in at the last minute, and think about what you’d truly enjoy—if you hate flying, don’t. If money is tight, don’t stress about affording a luxury vacation: Find something nearby and cheap that still makes you feel like you’re getting away from it all. If you hate having an agenda to follow, make sure to clear your schedule for your entire time off. The bottom line is don’t settle for anything less than relaxing—every second can help boost your health and happiness.