Thursday, August 15, 2013

Go On Vacation, It’s Good For your Health

As I’m getting ready to go on vacation, I’m thinking about all the positive things that accompany this time off.  I find it exciting to just have a break in my routine.  Routines can be comforting and predictable, but they can also become rigid and boring.   One of my friends has a simple definition of vacation: No Chores.  I think it is this absence of chores that frees up energy and opens us up to adventure and new experiences.   It allows me to be more in the moment.   I become more attentive and curious about my surroundings. I day dream and find a better balance between activity and rest.  
Often we don’t even know how much we’ve been pushing ourselves, how much we’ve ignored our body’s messages to slow down.   Or how much we’ve denied ourselves downtime and find instead some project that has to be finished.  I’m often surprised at how tired I feel the first few days of vacation.   My body seems to be telling me that it has needed rest for some time and it now intends to take it.

Vacations provide me with an excuse to unplug. I loosen the obsessive pull to check messages and return phone calls.   I take a holiday from the news.  I reengage in things I love, like photography.   I sharpen my sense of perception and see the beauty around me.

One year when I lived in Italy I was introduced to the European tradition of taking the month of August off.   I was shocked.   Taking an entire month off for vacation seemed extravagant. Then as I considered this more, it seemed not strange, but the epitome of sanity. Americans not only don’t take this much time off, our work ethic seems to push us in the opposite direction.  Sociologist say we work longer hours, take fewer vacation days and retire later than workers in other industrialized countries. 
 Can this propensity to shoulder on, to skip vacations or take work with us while on vacation, be healthy?   Some recent studies are showing the dangers of ignoring the need for downtime. 

A study by the time share company RCI found that "Women who took a vacation at least twice a year had a 50 percent lower chance of developing coronary heart disease than women who took a vacation once every six years or less. For men, taking more frequent annual vacations reduced the relative risk of dying of heart disease by almost 30 percent.”

Certainly this information tells us something important about finding balance between work and play.   We sleep at night so our bodies have time to rest, rebuild, and repair.  Our psyche needs the same.   Vacations offer us that opportunity.  They allow us to reduce stress and engage in experiences we find pleasurable.   They elicit playfulness and provide the leisure to dream and imagine.   If this all seems frivolous just remember that Albert Einstein was almost kicked out of college for daydreaming.  He maintained that he discovered the theory of relativity by gazing at sunbeams and fantasizing about what it would be like to ride on them into the universe.

“When I examine myself and my methods of thought, I come to the conclusion that the flight of fantasy has meant more to me than my talent for absorbing positive knowledge.”
Albert Einstein