By Dr. Mercola
Americans are taking fewer vacation days than they did 15 years ago, often not taking all of their earned vacation days, according to a survey by the US Travel Association.1 But the decision to put work over family and friends can lead to burnt bridges among personal relationships that can make your life richer for decades to come.
The survey revealed that seven out of 10 respondents skip kids’ activities, birthdays, and vacations in favor of work, while, paradoxically, 73 percent said spending time with family makes their lives richer and more meaningful.
Another survey found Americans use only 10 of their average 14 days of vacation a year, and while about one-third of Americans report feeling stressed out at work, most won’t take a vacation day because of it.2
In short, many Americans find it hard to find a suitable work-life balance that allows them to pay the bills and earn financial security while still spending time with family and having ample free time for their own sanity.
If it’s been awhile since your last vacation, you may be starting to feel it. Lack of adequate time off can manifest in many mysterious (and not so mysterious) ways, as the list below, compiled by TIME, explains.3
10 Signs You Need a Vacation
1. Little Problems Seem Huge
When you’re in a good place mentally and emotionally, you can handle those daily curveballs that come your way – with ease and even your fair share of finesse. But if you’re overly stressed, forget about it. Even small nuisances will seem overwhelming and may cause you to snap at co-workers or clients unnecessarily.
2. Coworkers Ask if You’re Alright
You probably spend a lot of time around your colleagues, and they may be among the first to notice that you’re not acting like yourself. Maybe you’re unusually cranky, quiet, or tired instead of your chipper self.
This is a sign that a long weekend is calling your name (if you can’t take a longer vacation, at least try to fit microbreaks into your day by walking outside for five or 10 minutes).
3. You’re Making Mistakes
Workplace errors are often the result of chronic stress. This can be problematic for your reputation and job security or, depending on your line of work, potentially deadly to those around you (such as if you work in the medical field). If you notice you’re making an unusual number of mistakes, arrange for some time off to regroup.
4. You’re Overly Cynical
Those who are most successful at work have about six positive experiences for each negative one. A ratio of three to one (in favor of positive) is about the bare minimum you need to stay happy at work. If that ratio gets flipped and you’re finding your work unfulfilling and frustrating without any positive merits, it could be due to impending burnout.
5. You’re Engaging in Counterproductive Work Behaviors
Arguing with co-workers, taking extra time at lunch or breaks, or “borrowing” office supplies are examples of “counterproductive work behaviors” or CWBs.
These behaviors are linked to high levels of workplace stress, and they may manifest weeks or months after the most stressful periods (such as a busy season).4 Time off may be a welcome cure (and might even give you time to seek out other opportunities).
6. You’re in Physical Pain
Workplace stress, particularly heavy workloads, negative work environments, and obstacles that prevent you from completing your work, are linked to pain levels in employees.5 Stress also promotes inflammation and pain sensitivity, which is why recurring backaches, headaches, eye strain, and other aches and pains are signs a vacation is long overdue.
7. Your Stomach’s Upset
An upset stomach and other digestive issues can also be manifestations of overwork and stress.6 The latter can even lead to changes in the bacteria in your gut that can make you prone to stomach issues.
8. You Have Trouble Sleeping
Excessive work stress and burnout can increase the chances of sleep problems, including difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep. People who are overworked have more trouble unwinding at the end of the day and also are more likely to report daytime sleepiness.7
9. You End Your Day with a Glass of Wine
Regularly using alcohol as a coping mechanism may be a result of too much stress at work. Those experiencing chronic stress and burnout may be more vulnerable to using alcohol and food as ways to ease stress in favor of healthier options like exercise.
10. You Lost the Sense of Purpose of Your Work
A more serious sign of burnout is losing perspective of why you’re working in the first place. You may not see any benefits, when in fact your job benefits your community, your country, or your family. If you can’t remember why you wanted your job in the first place, schedule a break from your daily grind soon.
What Do You Stand to Gain from Taking a Vacation?
You’ve seen what might happen if you don’t take a vacation, but what might happen if you do? According to research from the University of Calgary, taking a vacation (or even participating in leisure activities) can actually reduce depression.8
A separate study found sharing vacation experiences with your loved ones is a valuable contributor to family cohesion,9 whereas immersing yourself in a different culture may also foster creative thinking10 and improve well-being.11 Still other research by British research Scott McCabe has shown the following vacation benefits:12
Rest and recuperation from work Provision of new experiences leading to a broadening of horizons and the opportunity for learning and intercultural communication Promotion of peace and understanding Personal and social development Visiting friends and relatives Religious pilgrimage and health Subjective wellbeing
As the Examiner reported:13
“McCabe believes these positive benefits [of vacation] to be so strong that he recommends that families be given some form of financial assistance if they are unable to afford vacations on their own.”
Keep in mind that not every vacation will leave you feeling refreshed and relaxed. Generally speaking there are some universal factors that tend to contribute to a restful time off, and if you’re chronically stressed you’ll want to be sure you plan your vacation with at least some of these in mind:14
- Free time for yourself
- Warmer, sunnier location
- Good sleep
- Making new acquaintances
- Exercising during vacation
Even Planning a Vacation Can Benefit Your Mental Health…
It can certainly be exciting to travel the world and see new cities, states, or countries… but a vacation doesn’t have to be elaborate to be beneficial and enjoyable. Simply planning a vacation may help boost your mood, even if you don’t actually go on one.
Research showed people were happiest during the planning stage of their vacation, when their sense of anticipation was peaked.15 After the vacation was over, levels of happiness quickly returned to baseline.
“Staycations” have also become popular among those looking for a respite without breaking the bank. You might stay at a nearby hotel or bed-and-breakfast for a night or two to break up your daily grind. Or you can plan a week of day trips – visiting museums, zoos, national parks, theme parks, or other local points of interest – and returning home to sleep each night.
The key isn’t so much where you go as simply taking time off to just be with those you love, explore your surroundings, and nurture your inner self. Take the time to do the things you don’t get to do each day – like lingering over a cup of coffee and having the freedom to do whatever you want, whenever you want.
Whether your vacation is down the street or across the globe, you’ll enjoy numerous mental and physical health benefits both during your trip and upon your return. Surprisingly enough, even though many Americans forgo their annual vacations, 24 percent believe a vacation is a birthright… if you claim yours, here are even more benefits you’ll enjoy, according to the US Travel Association:16
- Increased health: Travelers rate their health a full point higher (on a scale of one to five) while on vacation.
- Deep sleep: Travelers say they get three times more deep sleep while on vacation, as well as an additional 20 minutes of sleep a night after their vacation.
- Life satisfaction: Feelings of life satisfaction increase during vacation and continue to stay elevated after returning home.
- Improved work life: Vacations can enhance your productivity and business accomplishments at work, so you’ll return to work refreshed and ready to take on new challenges.