Why taking vacation is important for mental healthMental health · Jul 18, 2022
It’s important to make time for a break. Research has shown1 that taking more paid vacation days is associated with both overall health and life satisfaction.
Even just planning2 a vacation can boost your mood and elevate self-perceived happiness levels in the weeks before departure. The memories made when on vacation can have a lasting benefit too - remembering and thinking about past positive experiences3 can affect your current state of happiness long after the occasion itself has passed.
The link between mental health and time off
When it comes to mental health, improving your mood and reducing stress and anxiety4 are two positive benefits of taking a vacation. Taking the time to disconnect from work can also help lower your risk of burnout, which is defined as experiencing emotional, mental and physical exhaustion resulting from work-related stress.
“Vacations remove us from situations we often associate with stress,” says Dr. Susan Siklos, a registered psychologist at TELUS Health Care Centres Mental Health clinic in Vancouver. “They allow you to have time to sleep, relax, and connect with the people and activities that are important to you - all of which improve mental health.”
It’s easy to fall into the trap of not taking time off because work is too busy. But time away from your desk can actually have a noticeable impact on your productivity and performance when you are back at work.
How time off can make you more productive
When stress levels become too high, performance can decline as a result. And research has shown5 that recovery time is needed to manage chronic stress that the workplace can often create. Vacation time has noticeable positive and immediate effects6 on perceived stress, recovery, strain and well-being.
“After a vacation, people usually come back to work more focused, more productive, and often more creative,” says Siklos. “Time away from work gives your brain a chance to reset, which can make it easier to think big picture and have a renewed sense of energy.”
One study7 of human resource professionals showed that 77% of supervisors saw increased productivity in their team members who took their vacation time in comparison to those who did not. The same study also found that employees who take all or most of their vacation in any given year are more likely to have higher levels of job satisfaction.
“When people feel more productive, they often feel happier and more fulfilled in their work,” notes Siklos. “This in turn can increase job and life satisfaction, while decreasing anxiety, stress and depression.”
Vacations and physical health
There are physical health benefits to vacation time as well. Studies have shown that vacations can have a positive effect on cardiovascular health.
One study8 that tracked participants over a nine year period found that those who took vacations were less at risk for developing heart disease than those who did not.
Another study9 looked at participants’ heart rate in stressful situations in the time leading up to their planned vacation. Results showed that participants had less of an increase in heart rate due to stress as their planned vacation got closer, suggesting that even just looking forward to a vacation can be beneficial for your physical health.
Long weekends count
Even if you can’t get away for an extended period of time, you can feel the positive effects of vacation. One study10 showed that a four-day “long weekend” had positive effects on well-being, recovery, strain, and perceived stress of participants for as long as 45 days afterward.
Traveling somewhere isn’t necessary to feel the positive effects either. Results showed11 that one single short-term vacation, regardless of whether at home or away, still had significant positive effects for overall stress levels and well-being.
Support is available
While taking time off work is an important step in reducing stress, sometimes it may also be helpful to speak with someone.
TELUS Health Care Centres offers psychology and counseling services in-person and virtually in British Columbia, Alberta and Quebec. Filling out a short contact form will put you in touch with a wellness advisor at the clinic who can help with next steps. If you’d prefer to speak with someone over the phone, call 1-866-937-3892.
Written in consultation with Dr. Susan Siklos, registered psychologist.
1. Hilbrecht, M., & Smale, B. (2016, February 29). The contribution of paid vacation time to wellbeing among employed Canadians. Taylor & Francis. Retrieved July 14, 2022, from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/14927713.2016.1144964?src=recsys&journalCode=rloi20
2. Nawijn, J., Marchand, M. A., Veenhoven, R., & Vingerhoets, A. J. (2010, February 10). Vacationers happier, but most not happier after a holiday - applied research in quality of life. SpringerLink. Retrieved July 14, 2022, from https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11482-009-9091-9
3. Zhang, J. W., & Howell, R. T. (2011). Do time perspectives predict unique variance in life satisfaction beyond personality traits? American Psychological Association. Retrieved July 14, 2022, from https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2011-08165-019
4. Joudrey, A. D., & Wallace, J. (2009, February 1). Leisure as a coping resource: A test of the job demand-control-support model. SAGE Journals. Retrieved July 14, 2022, from https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0018726708100357
5, 6, 10, 11.. Blank, C., Gatterer, K., Leichtfried, V., Pollhammer, D., Mair-Raggautz, M., Duschek, S., Humpeler, E., & Schobersberger, W. (2018, January 13). Short vacation improves stress-level and well-being in German-speaking middle-managers-a randomized controlled trial. MDPI. Retrieved July 14, 2022, from https://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/15/1/130
7. Shrm. (2021, August 19). SHRM/U.S. Travel Association: Vacation's impact on the workplace. SHRM. Retrieved July 14, 2022, from https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/trends-and-forecasting/research-and-surveys/pages/shrm-us-travel-vacation-benefits.aspx
8. KA;, G. B. B. M. (n.d.). Are vacations good for your health? The 9-year mortality experience after the multiple risk factor intervention trial. Psychosomatic medicine. Retrieved July 14, 2022, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11020089/
9. BB;, H. B. P. S. D. B. K. G. (2019, November 6). Do vacations alter the connection between stress and cardiovascular activity? the effects of a planned vacation on the relationship between weekly stress and ambulatory heart rate. Psychology & health. Retrieved July 14, 2022, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31694400/