DURING TURBULEN T ECONOMIC times, job secu- rity worries can be a major life stressor. That could be why 61 percent of Americans sur- veyed say they are willing to work on vacation, up from 51 percent in 2012. But that’s really a
shame. Because according to a team of researchers from Tel
Aviv University, if you don’t disengage, you miss the opportunity to rest up and recharge. Their study examined what it
called “respite effects,” which measures relief from job stress
before, during and after vacations. The team found that those
who are electronically hooked up to the office — even while
sipping mojitos beachside — are less likely to receive the real
benefits of a vacation. And just what are those benefits?
Well, for starters, it could save your life. A State
University of New York study of middle-aged men at risk
for cardiovascular disease, for example, suggests that
those who skipped vacations for five consecutive years
were 30 percent more likely to suffer heart attacks than
those who took at least one week off each year. A second
study by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and
Boston University, suggests a similar outcome for women.
Those who took vacations once every six years or less were
almost eight times more likely to suffer heart attacks or
die of cardiac causes. Even missing one year’s vacation was
associated with a higher risk of heart disease.
All work and no play can also take a toll on your
mental health. A study of 1,500 women published in the
Wisconsin Medical Journal found that those who take
vacations twice a year or more are less likely to become
tense, depressed or tired than those who took vacations
once every two years. The same study suggests marital
satisfaction declines when vacation time decreases.
A vacation can also be an opportune time to break a bad
habit. Numerous studies suggest that behavior patterns are
easier to change when you are in a new environment. It’s hard
to give up caffeine, for example, when swinging by Starbucks
on the way to the office is part of your daily routine. Ditto
for habitually coming home from work and parking yourself
in front of the TV. But the daily cues are different on vacation, creating the perfect opportunity to establish healthier
patterns. You might, for example, try reading a book rather
than staring at the TV when you return to your hotel room.
Likewise, substituting an herbal tea for a double espresso
allows you to treat yourself without the caffeine jolt.
Another argument for making changes while on vacation:
Since some habits help us control anxiety, trying to break them
when you’re less tense can increase your chance of success,
says Scott Barshack, a Corte Madera–based psychiatrist: “If
your bad habit is smoking cigarettes, a vacation can be a good
place to stop, as you’ll be in a more relaxed environment.”
Of course, all this thinking is based on the assumption
that your vacation lowers your stress rather than raises it.
So choose your destination and itinerary wisely. “Recent
psychiatric, dietary and cardiac research suggest that
stress may be creating inflammatory states in the body,
which, in turn, can release toxic cytokines and contribute
to things like depression, neurodegenerative disease, cardiac disease and diabetes,” says Barshack. On that note,
may we suggest a B&B weekend in Napa rather than a week
in your mother-in-law’s spare room? D.M.D.
The Good-for-You Getaway
those who are
hooked up to
the office —
are less likely
to receive the
real benefits of