Early Career Psychologist Column

Four reasons to take a vacation

Four reasons to take a vacation this summer, according to science.

By Andrea Robinson, PhD

Thinking of taking a vacation this summer? Below are four science-based reasons taking time off will actually benefit you.

  • Life Satisfaction. Taking a holiday can result in many physical and mental health benefits. In fact, some of these benefits have been shown to persist months after we have returned to work. A study of over 3,000 Canadian workers found that taking more paid vacation days was positively associated with both overall health and life satisfaction1.  Holidays promote improved work-life balance, decreased time pressure and better mental health. which all contribute to improved life satisfaction. What's even more encouraging is that t he experiences had while on vacation have long lasting effects, as viewing past experiences in a positive light can affect your current state of happiness2.
  • Physical Improvements. One of the most compelling reasons to take a vacation is that they can improve our physical health. A Framingham Heart Study found that vacations actually reduce the risk of heart disease. The study tracked subjects over a nine-year period and found a positive correlation between more frequent vacations and longer, healthier lives3. Men who didn't take a vacation for several years were 30 percent more likely to have heart attacks. Need a reason to get away this summer? The study found that skipping vacation for just one year could increase your risk of heart disease.
  • Mental Health Benefits. Vacations can also improve our mental health by reducing depression and anxiety. Vacations can improve mood and reduce stress by removing people from the activities and environments that they associate with stress and anxiety. A Canadian study of over 800 lawyers found vacations reduced depression and buffered against job stress4. Even a short vacation can reduce stress. A small Japanese study found a short, three-day leisure trip reduced perceived levels of stress and reduced levels of the “stress hormone” cortisol.
  • Improve productivity. Finally, studies show taking time off from work can actually make you more productive. No, really. A study conducted by the Boston Consulting Group found that professionals who were required to take time off were significantly more productive than those who spent more time working5. In addition, employees report tasks they have to complete as part of their job are less effortful after vacation compared to before vacation6. When you're more productive, you're happier, and when you're happier, you're a better worker.

So what are you waiting for? Get out there, unplug and explore.

Footnotes

1Hilbrecht, M., & Smale, B. (2016). The contribution of paid vacation time to wellbeing among employed Canadians. Leisure/Loisir, 40 (1), 31-54.

2Zhang, J. W., & Howell, R. T. (2011). Do time perspectives predict unique variance in life satisfaction beyond personality traits? Personality and individual differences, 50 (8), 1261-1266.

3Gump, B. B., & Matthews, K. A. (2000). Are vacations good for your health? The 9-year mortality experience after the multiple risk factor intervention trial. Psychosomatic Medicine, 62 (5), 608-612.

4Joudrey, A. D., & Wallace, J. E. (2009). Leisure as a coping resource: A test of the job demand-control-support model. Human Relations, 62 (2), 195-217.

5Perlow, L. A., & Porter, J. L. (2009). Making time off predictable--and required. Harvard business review, 87 (10), 102-9.

6Fritz, C., & Sonnentag, S. (2006). Recovery, well-being, and performance-related outcomes: the role of workload and vacation experiences. Journal of Applied Psychology91 (4), 936.