Nobody needs to tell you to take a vacation.
Or do they?
If you’re one of the 23% of Americans workers who take all of their PTO, then hats off to you. You get it.
But I’m betting you’re in the 77% camp—the employees who either don’t take all of their allotted time off, or end up working when they should be relaxing.
Instead of berating you for an inability to balance self-care and an iron-clad work ethic, let me say this: Vacation is the key to your sanity.
No really, it is. Before you close your screen and shuffle off to meetings or pressing emails, consider these very clear benefits to taking time off.
“Every person needs to take one day away. A day in which one consciously separates the past from the future. Jobs, family, employers, and friends can exist one day without any one of us, and if our egos permit us to confess, they could exist eternally in our absence. Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for. Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us.” ―Maya Angelou
You could live your life like a gladiator, vowing never to give up or walk away. But we all know that the human body physically needs rest. As the illustrious Maya Angelou said above, “Everyone needs to take one day away.”
Let me be more specific.
Rest reduces stress—that pesky byproduct of work that inhibits our ability to function at peak efficiency. When stress is the norm, some gradation of our fight or flight response is always in play; our heart beat is elevated, our blood pressure rises, our minds concentrate narrowly on solutions to single stress triggers instead of leveraging high-level thinking for more effective problem-solving.
Clearly, we aren’t at our best. But when we allow ourselves to rest—that is, relaxing away from work and other life pressures—we give our bodies a chance to move from “fight or flight” to well-adjusted normality. And when our bodies are functioning at normal levels and our minds are freed up to think more broadly, we are also able to sleep better.
Sleep, as most of us know, is key to proper physical and mental function. Among some of the primary benefits are:
- Reduction of inflammation and the possibility of heart disease
- Boosted immune system
- Memory improvement
Don’t take my word for it, though. The National Institutes of Health have studied this for decades, and their overwhelming opinion is simple: Rest reduces stress which improve the ability to sleep which, in turn, makes us much healthier, happier, and more productive humans.
Experiencing a new environment and new adventures
”Jobs fill your pockets, but adventures fill your soul.” —Jaime Lyn
The last time I traveled to Europe, I was overwhelmed with ideas for writing projects. Heck, I conceived of entire miniseries with a flamboyant Parisian protagonist, hellbent on solving cold crimes in the love capital of the world.
Whether or not my series came to life is almost irrelevant (I’m still debating whether or not my protagonist should have a mustache); many of my character and plot ideas came from simple observations on the streets of Paris.
Now I’m convinced that those ideas would never have occurred to me sitting in front of my computer at home or rifling through books about travel. I needed to experience the travel firsthand.
While routines are tops for daily productivity, they can get stale. If you’re not careful, they can zap your creativity and push you into a rut of automatic motion. And sure, some of those routine habits are good, but to move ahead in life, you need to think outside the box.
This is a huge benefit of vacation. Changing scenery and experiencing new activities and adventures is a major boost to creativity. Not only this, but the challenges you face in a new setting, surrounded by different people, force you to adapt and be flexible—both invaluable skills in the office and at home.
Perhaps the greatest advantage to a change in scenery, however, is new perspective. Whether you’re traipsing through a South American jungle, trying a new cocktail on the beach, or wandering through the streets of a major European city, your perspective changes—you see people in new settings; you appreciate customs and cultures that you’ve never known before; and you learn to communicate with people whose lives are vastly different than your own.
New experiences, in short, feed your soul in a way most of our daily routines just don’t.
Spending time with close friends or loved ones
“At the end of your life, you will never regret not having passed one more test, not winning one more verdict, or not closing one more deal. You will regret time not spent with a husband, a friend, a child, a parent.” —Barbara Bush
There’s no shortage of evidence that time spent with family promotes a happy, healthy life—both for parents and children. Positive behavior is encouraged, emotional bonds are strengthened, self-esteem and self-worth are boosted, and memories are created that inform future behavior and emotional development.
But there’s something else to this time with loved ones that’s key for a workaholic. It’s easy in professional settings to feel the burden of expectation without support. Reconnecting with a spouse and children reinforces the support that is always present at home—as long as you let them in to support you. That support is emotional as much as it is mental; the ability to share work frustration in the right setting allows you to parse office challenges that you’d otherwise be left alone to handle. And trust me on this: Your family will thank you for making them a part of your WHOLE life, not just your home life.
On a much bigger scale, however, this connection can help you get to the root of mental blocks and emotional obstacles—the underlying elements that make any part of life difficult. A loving, caring relationship with friends and family give them the opportunity to hold up a mirror and show you yourself in a way that you couldn’t by dithering in self-doubt. While sometimes painful, this helps to overcome mental/emotional obstacles for improved health and happiness .
Lastly, time with family and friends is always a good way to remind you of your “why”—as Simon Sinek so famously puts it. These moments of connection are the opportunity to remember your underlying purpose and direction. Why are you working so hard in your career? Why did you choose it to begin with? Is it really the right fit for you? Have you even stopped to think about that? What are your priorities and goals?
Hard questioning and the revelations that follow are not always the most exciting or “fun” elements of a vacation, but they reset your compass in a way that the daily grind never would.
Enjoying quality alone time
“We need solitude, because when we’re alone, we’re free from obligations, we don’t need to put on a show, and we can hear our own thoughts.” ―Tamim Ansary
Some of us are extraverts. Some are introverts. I’m in that awkward, fence-riding place where time spent with others both gives and saps a certain measure of energy.
But the interesting thing about both extraverts and introverts is that we all need alone time. Some of that is about reminding yourself of your needs, your purpose, your “why.” Some of it is processing information and experiences that you simply haven’t given yourself time to process. It’s no secret, after all, that our world is overburdened with information and that our ability to process it is stunted by the perceived urgency of everything. Is it any wonder we’re so stressed out?
But being alone is also about fundamentally restructuring the pieces of our lives in an arrangement that makes sense for US. It’s about acknowledging the extent to which our priorities get out of whack—often because of others’ influence and exhortation—and starting the process of reorganizing goals, priorities, and values.
If it needs be said, vacations are about more than endless umbrella cocktails and sun-soaked days. They are critical to our wellbeing in the present, and give us the health and perspective to take big swings in life further down the road.
Make that case to your boss the next time he argues with you a few days of PTO.
Time to turn your “why” into a purpose-driven Morning Routine.
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