What is the importance of vacation?

Among the many debates swirling through the nation’s circle of pundits each year is whether nation’s leaders should take time off in the summer for their yearly recess. As it turns out, though it may seem that they’re being irresponsible, perhaps they’re doing the right thing. Everyone needs a vacation once in a while.

Though the average citizen may not experience the kind of mega-stress of a nationally elected leader, all of us have our own home-grown version of job-related stress. We may face the burden of meeting tight deadlines, making crucial decisions, or managing the complexities of household demands. Our stress may also include the stress of being under- or unemployed. All adults have lives that are filled with some form of stress, even if we don’t truly acknowledge this fact.

Chronic stress takes its toll in part on our body’s ability to resist infection, maintain vital functions, and even ability to avoid injury. When you’re stressed out and tired, you are more likely to become ill, your arteries take a beating, and you’re more likely to have an accident. Your sleep will suffer, you won’t digest your food as well, and even the genetic material in the cells of your body may start to become altered in a bad way. Mentally, not only do you become more irritable, depressed, and anxious, but your memory will become worse and you’ll make poorer decisions. You’ll also be less fun to be with, causing you to become more isolated, lonely, and depressed.

Clearly, then, stress is not a good thing. Even people who claim to love the high-pressured lifestyle will admit, in their quieter moments, that there are times when they just want to get away from it all, if only for a short time.

Vacations have the potential to break into the stress cycle. We emerge from a successful vacation feeling ready to take on the world again. We gain perspective on our problems, get to relax with our families and friends, and get a break from our usual routines. That’s if the vacation is “successful.” Later, I’ll talk about ways to guarantee that you do have a successful vacation experience rather than one that could be chronicled as a “National Lampoon” movie. For now, though, let’s look at some of that evidence.

In a 2009 study, Canadian researchers Joudrey and Wallace reported that “active” leisure pursuits (such as golf!) and taking vacations helped to buffer or ameliorate the job stress among a sample of almost 900 lawyers. British researcher Scott McCabe noted that vacations’ “personal benefits have been found to include: 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; and, subjective wellbeing” (p. 667). McCabe believes these positive benefits 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.

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