Vacations are good for your mind and body!

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By: John R. Batty, RN, MSN, HCSM

My friend Rex sported a snappy spring in his step, a smile on his face and two twinkling eyes, so I just had to ask, “What’s up with you? You look like you just won the lottery.” He grinned and went on to tell me his grievances with the delivery truck, his wife’s car has a flat tire, and the house needs painting. And he ended with saying that tomorrow he is off to the beach for a week!

You could hear the excitement in his voice as he described sitting in the sun, forgetting about phone calls, sleeping late and feasting on whatever he wanted to eat. His relaxed plans would be paired with t-shirts, shorts and flip-flops all week.

While Rex was simply telling me about his summer vacation plans, what he was really doing was following the advice of a study released by Joudrey and Wallace. The study reported that vacations helped to buffer job or workplace stress. The study followed a sample of almost 900 lawyers. While I knew this research existed, I could simply tell from Rex’s mannerisms that his upcoming vacation was going to be good for him. It was easy to reflect on my own fond vacation memories.

Vacations, at the core, are filled with activities that go against our daily routine. The change in daily routines provides opportunities for improvement in areas that need attention. For example, Dr. Susan Whitbourne published in Psychology Today that stress impacts your sleep causing you to be irritable, depressed and anxious while leading to memory loss and poor decision making. Not to mention, you wouldn’t be very much fun to be around since stress is not good for you mentally or physically. The simple act of not setting the alarm clock on vacation can spark a series of effects that can change that day’s outlook and attitude.

If you are still thinking about making plans for summer vacation this year, I would encourage you to do so for your mental health. Taking a vacation is key. The positive vibes and attitude acquired from a vacation can carry over into the workplace upon return. No matter the budget, the destination or the duration of the vacation, the motions of a summer vacation bring health benefits for both personal and professional roles.

Reflecting on Dr. Whitbourne’s ideas to reduce stress and make the most fun out of your vacation time, here are a few things to consider when thinking about a summer vacation.

Reduce stress by planning ahead. Hit the internet with your favorite destination in mind. During vacation season, the travel websites are full of alternatives that can make the trip cheaper and more enjoyable. It is also a good idea to involve the family in the research by assigning different activities. For example, give the travel details to the oldest child, the daily activities to an another, literary events to mom and meals to everyone. Family involvement in planning can be a wonderful learning experience. Doing this can build excitement and memories before you have even left the driveway.

Know the rules, laws and how it may apply to you at the destination. If you are planning on leaving town for vacation, think about how different state laws and regulations will affect your choice of travel. If you are planning to roast marshmallows over a fire on the beach, check in to what permitting is required to have a waterfront fire. If you are driving, research online the different driving regulations in the states you may drive through to arrive at the beach. If you’re flying, plan ahead in order to avoid airline surprises such as fees, cancellations or extra TSA requirements. Be prepared for any changes that may impact your plans. Better preparation can help alleviate any unforeseen obstacles that can cause stress while you are supposed to be in stress-free mode.

Leave guilty feelings at home. Remember you are taking a vacation for all of the positive reasons. You need to focus on cleansing your mind of any negative thoughts—like guilt. Whether the guilt stems from personal or professional reasons, address the root and move on. It will help you feel better about getting out of town if you can check off that you addressed your area of concern. Don’t worry about the family pet being boarded for the week. Focus on how excited your puppy will be to see you when you get home.

Checking out on vacation is key. Don’t worry about being away from your desk. Make preparations so your workload is covered, and you can keep it off of your mind. Unplug and disconnect from the devices and tools that keep you tied to your everyday role. It is your turn to take a break to rejuvenate your mind and soul. Only you can take advantage of the time, so make sure to take it and not let it pass you by. If you absolutely must answer an email or phone call, then appoint a time of day when it is most convenient for you to reply. Remember, your laptop won’t hate you if it is left at home.

Be present with those also on your journey. Remember the small things that are making the trip exceptional. The unexpected beautiful sunsets that light up the sky may be your favorite memory from the trip. But it is important to be present in the moment, so those details aren’t missed. The most memorable events in our lives often pop up when we are not expecting them to arrive. Save these precious moments with pictures, movies, souvenirs—whatever it takes to bring the moment back into your life. This will give you an opportunity to later reflect on the stress-free time you spent on vacation and could even prompt the inspiration for your next trip.

The list of excuses to not take a summer vacation can be long, from budget concerns to narrowing down where to go. What I hope you learn from Rex is that often times the health benefits don’t stem from the vacation activities themselves. The rewards that you reap from a vacation are created as a result in the shift in your mindset, away from the daily grind to centering oneself. Days off are few and far between, so take advantage of any summer travel available to you. Your body will respond both mentally and physically to the gift.

Finally, Rex pointed out to me a picture that showed a generation of children. They are all barefoot on the beach, casually in shorts and t-shirts. He said, that picture reminds me so much of that vacation that I can smell the ocean breeze, feel the sand beneath my feet and hear the children giggling. That simple photo took him back to the time when he put life on pause and said yes to a summer vacation.

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John R. Batty is a registered nurse and coauthor of the book, Voices of Angels–Disaster Lessons from Katrina Nurses.  He currently teaches at Tulane University’s School of Professional Advancement and writes Continuing Education Presentations for nurses, social workers and healthcare professionals. He has worked in long-term care facilities, trauma surgery, Psych Crisis Intervention and juvenile facilities.  The majority of his experience in healthcare has been in psychiatric nursing.

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