Vacations not only improve mindfulness, but also have a physiological benefit too

In a modern, fast-paced society, stress is part of our day-to-day lives. It can build up as a result of all sorts of things, from tight deadlines to decision-making to interpersonal relationships.  Chronic stress, especially, manifests itself in both mental symptoms, like impeded memory and increased irritability, and physical symptoms, like poorer digestion and insomnia.

Our smartphones also add to our levels of stress. A 2012 study by Derks and Bakker found that intensive usage of smart-phones increases the relationship between work-home interference and levels of burnout, and it was concluded that particularly for intensive smartphone users, activities that promote psychological detachment and relaxation reduce the risk of work-home interference, and hence decreases risk of burnout.

One activity that promotes psychological detachment and relaxation, that allows us to break the cycle and rejuvenate, would be taking vacations. In 2009, researchers Joudrey and Wallace reported that active pursuits and taking vacations helped buffer job stress from a sample of almost 900 lawyers. This is because mental disengagement from work during leisure acts acts as a buffer between job demands and burnout (Sonnentag, 2012). These results extend towards vacation studies, with studies finding mental detachment one of the key mechanisms that vacations decrease levels of burnout in working adults.

Vacations are now much more accessible than they’ve ever been in the past. The rise of websites like TripAdvisor makes planning for vacations and weekend getaways much less stressful, while with the rise of flexible working, vacations are no longer a luxury. For example, working one Night Merchandiser shift on Flexy can already pay for return flights to many European countries, while completing just one Showroom Assistant shift can potentially earn enough money for a night’s stay in a decent hotel.

However, while findings regarding the importance of mental disengagement from work during vacations have been consistent, researchers failed to find a strong relationship between engaging in work-related activities during vacation and general health and well-being, which is exactly the opposite of what we would expect. Researchers found that more than a third of vacationers worked during their holidays at some point, but these working times were limited to less than 30 minutes a day for most people. In addition, employees had the freedom to choose whether or not to engage in work-related activities, how long they spend on each task, and the type of tasks that they engage in.

So what does this all mean? It’s obvious that stress is a constant part of everyday life, and it must be managed well to avoid burnout. Travelling, and taking time off, is very good way of managing stress, as it allows us to mentally disengage from our work in a way we may not be able to do at home (due to intensive smartphone usage). However, mental disengagement does not mean we need to completely turn off from work altogether. As long as we remain in control of our work-related activities, and take them in small doses, they shouldn’t take away from the overall effects of relaxing and going on a trip, and the benefits of a short vacation can last up to 6 weeks.



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