You need a holiday

I recently completed a full-time four-year psychology degree. “Great,” I thought, “I finally have time to get a lot of work done and top up the old study-drained bank account!”

Only it hasn’t worked out that way. In fact, every day I have spent in front of my computer has yielded diminishing results. Less words written and edited, less life tasks stricken from the ever-expanding to-do list, less productivity than ever. I’m spending twice as much time at my computer to get half the amount of work done. And since I’m not getting enough done, I don’t take time off, because “I can’t afford to.”

On Friday night, I went to a drive-in movie outside town with a friend, where you watch movies and then camp overnight. After dropping him home on Saturday, I felt a bit iffy (excessive drive-in chips and nachos I suspect), so I napped, then spent the evening sprawled on the sofa with Netflix. It was the first day I’d done zero work or study in as long as I can remember.

The results

Sunday saw a sudden return to productivity. I was able to focus again, and felt more creative, inspired, and dedicated than I had in a while. Having just a one-day break from my desk, my computer, and my apartment had helped me break the cycle and reset.

I’m now planning a one-week holiday. My van and I are going camping next week, and I’m heading north into the Daintree, where I won’t have internet access to check my work emails.

I had convinced myself I “couldn’t afford” time off, but now I see that I can’t afford NOT to take time off.

Holidays reduce stress.

“Well duh,” I hear you mock.

Not only does a holiday help lower stress and provide all the benefits that come with that, it does so in the period leading up to the holiday, and the effects can continue long after you’ve returned. Stress is implicated in numerous diseases and health problems, so you can definitely justify your holiday as a health intervention.

Holidays improve your health.

Back in 1992, one study showed that women who took less than one holiday every six years were twice as likely to have a heart attack than women who took breaks every year. More recently, another study showed that people who had taken a holiday in the 12 months prior had a 25% reduced chance of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and stroke.

Holidays improve your creativity.

Neuroscience has shown that we have more aha moments, more moments of unbridled creativity, and more inspiration when we are relaxed. Relaxation activates the brain’s “default network,” which is when spontaneous ideas are likely to occur.

By changing your environment, you are also exposing yourself to new stimulus, which prompts different paths of thought than the well-carved ones you’re likely to be travelling over and over in your work and home environments. One study showed that simply hiking in nature without devices led to a 50% spike in creativity.

Holidays make you more productive.

Burnout leads to mistakes. Stress leads to slowdown, routine can lead to rigid thinking, and doing the same thing day in day out can wear away at your efficiency and productivity. A change of pace and environment can give you the refresh and reset you need to jump back into your work and life with renewed love for what you do.

Holidays help you get perspective.

Stepping away from your routines can give you a valuable chance to see things from a wider angle. I was convinced I “couldn’t afford” to take time off so I kept lashing myself to my computer and beating myself with the WORK HARDER stick, but just getting into my van and driving an hour away was enough for me to realise that a) I had money in the bank, and b) the point of money is to spend it on things that make our lives better. I didn’t need to earn more money; I needed to spend some of the money I already had on my own wellbeing.

How to get the most out of a holiday

How you holiday is individual, and whether you choose a strenuous seven-day hike or cocktail brunches by a resort pool is entirely a matter of personal preference. But these basic guidelines will help you maximise results.

1. Unplug from work. Don’t check your work emails, don’t let people contact you for “quick questions,” put your out-of-office reply on and take a proper break. With very few exceptions, it is highly unlikely anyone will die without you. Tie up as many loose ends as you can before your holiday begins.

2. Plan ahead to avoid stressful chaos. Book itineraries, accommodation, even meals if that’s going to make your holiday more relaxing. Browsing options and planning is half the fun! Use internet reviews to make good choices and minimise the chance of nasty surprises.

3. Make time for yourself. If you’re holidaying with family, don’t fall into the trap of planning a full itinerary of kids’ activities, or only doing things your spouse will love. There is nothing wrong with sending them all away together while you read a book by the pool if that’s what you want to do.

Overcoming obstacles

I know as well as anyone how hard it can be to a) recognise the need for a holiday, b) understand that you are worthy of a holiday, and c) organise your life so that a holiday is possible. If you feel like planning and taking a holiday is harder than it should be, it might help you to talk your blockages over with a therapist who is objective, constructive, and has your wellbeing at heart. Get in touch today if you’d like to organise a free consultation call.