The Mental Health Benefits of Using Your Vacation Days the Right Way

The following is a guest post from Henry at Fit Well Traveler.

Americans are known the world over as productivity-obsessed employees and individuals. We answer our work email on holidays, eat lunch hunched over our desks, and have to be reminded by candy bar and beer advertisements that we deserve a break. But what if our seemingly well-intentioned dedication is actually hurting our mental health? It would (partially) explain our plummeting position in the World Happiness Report over the last ten years, where we’ve dropped from 3rd to 19th place. America may be #1, but apparently not in the happiness department.

So how can you overcome these factors (and American culture) to carve out some happiness for yourself? Read on to find out.

The State Of The American Vacation

In 2015, more than half of American workers left unused vacation days on the table. In all, this trend amounted to 658 million unused vacation days and $61.4 billion in forfeited paid vacation time. And that may be good news for your employer, but it does absolutely nothing to benefit you.

Photo Courtesy of Pixaby

What’s more is that the typical American vacation is more stressful than being at work. We over-schedule, trying to make the most of our time in a new place, essentially running ourselves ragged with yet more expectations as to what a successful vacation should look like. Surely you’ve heard someone comment more than once before that they needed a vacation after their vacation.

Vacations of this fashion do little to help you unwind and recharge your batteries. Instead it’s a mad dash to do everything, see everything, and (usually) eat everything.

But there is a better way.

Why Using Those Vacation Days Is Actually Good For You

A number of studies have shown that there is a connection between using your vacation time and your health – and the benefits aren’t limited to your mental well-being. One such study, known as The Multiple Risk Factor Intervention Trial for the Prevention of Coronary Heart Disease and sponsored by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute found that men who take frequent annual vacations were 21 percent less likely to die from any cause, and were 32 percent less likely to die from heart disease.

The Framingham Heart Study, which is considered a landmark study due to being the largest and longest-running study of heart disease, found that men who hadn’t taken a vacation for several years were 30 percent more likely to have a heart attack than men who took time off. And it didn’t fare much better for women. Apparently women who vacation an average of once every six years were almost eight times more likely to develop coronary disease or suffer a heart attack than those who vacationed twice a year.

Not surprisingly, studies have also shown that taking regular vacations can have a significant, beneficial impact by reducing depression symptoms and stress levels. According to Dr. Srinivas Iyengar of Bradenton Cardiology Center, “The body isn’t prepared for chronic stress. When we’re exposed to the daily rigors of work every day, or a bad job, a bad employer, even the drive to work, you get chronic exposure to the hormones that help in the acute phase. The body actually suffers damage to blood vessels over time, due to inflammation of hormonal releases.”

Well that explains those non-vacation-taking-related heart attacks.

So how does all of this information translate into actions you can take to improve your health. Start by using your vacation days. Hire a pet sitter, get a neighbor to water your plants, and take some well-deserved time off — and while you’re away, fight the urge to schedule every second of your vacation. Sit in the sun with a frozen cocktail and a delicious book. Wander a new city with no plans or expectations. Avoid your work email or delete the app from your phone before you leave home. Your life may depend on it.

Blogger-in-Chief here at RetirementSavvy and author of Sin City Greed, Cream City Hustle and RENDEZVOUS WITH RETIREMENT: A Guide to Getting Fiscally Fit.

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