Take a Vacation, Doctor’s Orders

vacation_rx_padVacation, staycation, it doesn’t matter. You need time off, because the consequences of not taking a vacation can be serious.

Without a break from your daily responsibilities, you could end up feeling bummed out, burned out and stressed out, which can make you more susceptible to illness. “You also have a higher likelihood of marital conflict and alienation from your kids,” says Peter Fraenkel, Ph.D., director of the Center for Work and Family at the Ackerman Institute for the Family in New York. Feeling overworked and constantly stressed out can actually lead to depression, anxiety, insomnia, irritability and lack of energy or excitement, according to Dr. Fraenkel.

Here’s what happens: Work-related challenges, complaints and crises trigger our fight or flight response, explains Dr. Fraenkel. To counteract that heightened state, we need a timeout so our bodies can calm down. But too often we don’t take one, so we’re operating in a continuous state of stress.

Our 24/7 world compounds the stress cascade. “We are connected to our workplaces in a manner unheard of 20 years ago, through cell phones and mobile computers,” he says. “The work is always there, and your access is always there, and it’s become harder and harder for individuals to protect themselves from being overworked.” Even if you love your job, you need downtime to make sure you don’t get burnt out from an overloaded schedule.

Carve Out Time for the Whole Family
Time away from work is an opportunity to get rid of stress, renew your vitality and strengthen family bonds, says psychologist Richard Ryan, Ph.D., from the University of Rochester. “Make sure you connect with the people that you love,” he says. That connection is one of the most beneficial parts of a vacation, and it’s important to the long-term health and well-being of our families. If you’re single or don’t have children (or both), bonding with your friends and family is just as important.

“Research shows the positive effects of time off on physical and mental health,” says Dr. Ryan. Even a break as short as a weekend can help repair your body and replenish your mental reserves. It has to be a real break, though: Don’t take on projects like painting the house or cleaning the garage, unless they truly relax you. When you are planning your next vacation, try to set it up so that when you return to work, not much more has been piled on your plate.

And make sure you unplug. “It’s not so easy to turn off the Blackberry,” says Dr. Fraenkel, but it’s necessary. If you absolutely need to check in with your job, create a limited schedule of calling in or checking email, he suggests. That way everyone will know when to expect the work intrusion and it won’t interrupt family time.

Stay-at-Home Moms
Working in the home can be just as stressful as working outside of it—and you never get to leave the office! Stay-at-home moms (and dads) need time off, too.

Ask your spouse to take a few projects off your plate now and then to help give you some time away from managing the household. “Move some things to his to-do list,” says Dr. Fraenkel. More importantly, when you give away a chore or project, it’s up to your partner to manage it.

If your husband is resistant to taking on more chores, point out that cooking dinner or grocery shopping can be prime time to hang out with the kids while giving mama a little “me” time. When you do go on vacation, let your spouse take over on some of the trip so you can kick back and relax. When vacationing in your own backyard, divvy up the responsibilities so both of you will have time to relax and enjoy your family.

No Money? No Problem
“Staycations can be highly restorative,” says Dr. Ryan. However you plan your leisure time, he suggests spending some of that time outside in nature. “There is a direct effect of green things on people’s health. We live pretty fast-paced, complicated lives,” says Dr. Ryan. “One of the things I’ve been seeing across research literature is that if people can simplify their lives, the happier they are.”

Originally published on iVillage.com

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