Taking a Vacation Could Boost Your Mental Health

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A strong work ethic is ingrained in the American culture. So taking time off doesn’t come easy for many people. The general idea is that the harder you work, the more successful you will become, which in turn will reap big rewards. It’s a common belief in our Western culture where the average annual number of vacation days has been declining since the late 1970s. There’s no disputing that Americans are burned out, stressed out, worried and anxious. Yet something as simple as a vacation could help.

Here’s how it works: Scientists know that cortisol (the stress hormone) can alter a person’s brain structure when that individual is exposed to chronic stress. This can lead to increased anxiety and depression. Vacations – or any time away from the daily routine – alter that effect, providing a period of healing for the body and the mind. That translates to less worrying (or ruminating) and greater emotional well-being in all facets of a person’s life.

Now that the warm-weather months have arrived, you may be contemplating a vacation or even a staycation (time off that you spend at home). If you’re on the fence about taking a break, remember that a vacation can:

  • Change how you think about life. There may be times when you are too busy to think about your goals or even how you like to spend your time. Life can pass you by before you realize it. A vacation is an opportunity to re-establish your priorities and, in some cases, reinvent yourself.
  • Increase creativity. A change of scenery does wonders for the creative juices in your brain. Getting away from the ordinary can help you adapt to a new way of thinking – one that makes it possible to respond to the unexpected. Without a vacation, it’s easy to get stuck in a rut that views what you’ve always done as acceptable.
  • Boost your career. If you think this sounds counterintuitive, think again. Studies show that taking time off can actually increase worker productivity and creativity. It’s the main reason most other developed nations promote a culture that values time off.
  • Remind you that your career isn’t everything. Other things matter, including your health, family relationships, your social life, your spiritual well-being and so much more. It helps to occasionally step off the treadmill and re-evaluate what’s really important.

Like many people, you may be turned off by all the preparation that goes into getting ready for a vacation. Keep in mind that planning ahead is the best way to deal with this. Decide on your vacation dates and record them on your calendar. Let your work colleagues know early on that you’ll be out of the office on those dates, and start regulating your workflow to accommodate your plans. Be willing to delegate some of your tasks to others, focus on your priorities and view your vacation as an important part of your physical and mental well-being. The benefits are too great to overlook.

David Lowenstein, Ph.D. is a psychologist and the clinical director of Lowenstein & Associates, Inc. in Columbus, Ohio. In addition to providing therapeutic services to individuals and families, he offers training and consultation to numerous associations, schools and agencies around the country. Additionally, he is a frequent radio and TV guest and a resource and contributing writer for numerous newspapers and magazines nationwide. Contact Dr. David Lowenstein at 691 South Fifth Street, Columbus, Ohio, 43206, or call 614.443.6155 or 614.444.0432.