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We are all aware of the benefits of taking a vacation, but it seems that both employers and employees fail to fully grasp just how beneficial it can be. Shockingly, more than half of Americans forfeit their paid time off each year, resulting in 768 million unused vacation days in 2018, with over 30% of that time going completely to waste. Additionally, over 50% of managers report feeling burned out, making it more crucial than ever to prioritize taking vacation and truly disconnecting from work.

You may have personally experienced the rejuvenating effects of a recent vacation, or perhaps you and your team have been hesitant to take time off due to a heavy workload. To promote sustainable wellbeing for both employees and yourself, it is crucial to not only take advantage of available vacation time but also fully understand the multitude of benefits it offers and encourage team members to plan their time off. Whether they choose to relax by a pool, engage in adventurous activities, or even opt for a staycation, going on vacation provides numerous advantages for the mind, body, and soul.

Let’s start with the mind. When overwhelmed with work, individuals often experience cognitive fatigue, difficulty concentrating, forgetfulness, and impaired problem-solving abilities, among other detrimental effects. Taking a vacation allows for increased rest and better sleep, which can clear the mind and create more mental space. This mental clarity promotes clear thinking and enhances creativity. A simple walk, even on a treadmill, has been shown to significantly boost creativity, while larger-scale vacations provide the perfect opportunity for innovative ideas to emerge. Lin-Manuel Miranda famously conceived the idea for Hamilton while on vacation, emphasizing the power of a rested mind. Moreover, vacationing and even planning for it can improve mood and counteract the negative effects of sleep debt, which often results from work-related stress and anxiety. Adequate sleep not only improves memory and concentration but also reduces the risk of developing dementia. Research indicates that taking a vacation increases positive emotions, reduces depression, and spending time in nature reduces negative rumination while enhancing overall psychological well-being.

Enhanced rest and sleep during vacation also improve cognitive function, focus, and productivity upon return to work. Studies have shown that for every additional 10 hours of vacation time taken, year-end performance improves by 8%. Using all available vacation time increases the likelihood of receiving a promotion or raise, as well as reducing the likelihood of leaving the company. Companies that enforce mandatory vacation time experience increased creativity, happiness, and productivity, while combating any cultural expectation of overworking. 

Moving on to the body, the stresses of daily work life can lead to elevated levels of stress hormones like cortisol and epinephrine, which are similar to the response one experiences in a physically dangerous situation. These hormones suppress the immune system, leaving the body susceptible to illness. Taking a vacation and relaxing can decrease the levels of stress hormones, allowing the immune system to recover and making individuals less prone to getting sick. Chronic elevation of stress hormones due to prolonged work without adequate rest increases the chances of developing serious illnesses such as heart disease or cancer. Research shows that those who take vacations less frequently than once every six years are eight times more likely to develop heart problems compared to those who take vacations twice a year. Vacations can also lead to lower blood sugar levels, improved “good” cholesterol levels (HDL), and reduce the chances of dying from coronary heart disease.

Depending on how individuals spend their vacation time, there may be additional physical benefits. Spending time in nature lowers heart rate and blood pressure, while engaging in physical activities like hiking, biking, swimming, or other waterbased exercises improves cardiovascular and respiratory health, strengthens bones and muscles, and enhances balance. Getting a massage while on vacation not only promotes relaxation but also improves circulation, flexibility, immune response, and reduces muscle stiffness and joint inflammation. Lastly, let’s explore the impact of vacationing on the soul. While the mental and physical benefits of vacations are widely recognized, the profound impact.