The art of Holidays
Are you having time off over summer or are you working through? Will you take a break next year to recharge your batteries?
There seems to be increasing pressure for some to continue to work. If they take a break then the work just piles up and waits for their return or the email inbox fills to overflowing. The thought of the increased workload and long hours required post holiday to catch up, can make it more appealing to forgo the break and “keep on top of things”. Some will continue to deal with emails and answer calls through their “holiday” because it’s easier in the long run…..isn’t it?
Not according to the Framington Heart Study (1947 – current) which, amongst other projects, carried out a 20 year longitudinal study investigating cardiovascular disease and risk factors in a group of women. They found women who took “infrequent” holidays were significantly more likely to have heart attacks. The same has also been found true for our male counterparts. In addition to increasing the risk of a cardiac event those who don’t take holidays are known to suffer from higher rates of burnout (a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion brought about by excessive and prolonged stress. You feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands). Not surprisingly this results in reduced focus and lower productivity, sleep is disturbed and the immune system is damaged. More relationship problems are reported and increased levels of depression and suicide result. With that in mind it isn’t difficult to see that a good restorative break is a smart thing to take. It’s a win-win for both employees and employers and of course for the self-employed. Even for those no longer working a change of scene can be very beneficial.
But what constitutes a “restorative break”? What type of holiday provides us with the best recovery from the toils of the year? Dr Sabine Sonnentag, University of Mannheim, Germany, has spent her career researching that and related questions. She and her colleagues have discovered 4 factors that contribute to a truly restorative holiday.
Let’s take a look at them.
1) Relaxation – it’s not too surprising to find this on the list!
Relaxation is simply engaging in pleasant, undemanding activities (mentally & / or physically). It doesn’t have to be completely sedentary, however it shouldn’t require lots of effort.
2) Control – this relates to you choosing how and where to spend your time. You literally, take control of your holiday. This seems to be especially important for those who have little control in their work environment or those whose days off are cram packed with family duties, chores and other commitments.
3) Mastery – this isn’t, perhaps, as obvious as the first two, however it is equally important. Mastery is about engaging in interesting activities that you do well. It may sound a bit counter intuitive after relaxation but the idea behind it is that you do things where you get “into the flow”(a highly focussed mental state). You become mentally absorbed in an activing that is enjoyable and at the same time a little challenging. As you improve your skill level, your satisfaction levels rise. Psychologist, and expert in “flow”, Mikaly Csikszentmihalyi said “These activities also make your life more meaningful; people who seek out “flow” experiences in difficult but rewarding activities are happier and have more satisfying lives than people who pursue sybaritic (hedonistic) pleasures”.
4) Psychological detachment from work – while this may seem blindingly obvious it’s becoming more and more difficult to achieve in our hyper – connected world. With ready email access and a phone in your pocket it’s easy to get caught up in workplace events via the various social media platforms, intercept and fire off emails and answer work related calls. Work seeps into your holiday. Psychological detachment requires escaping all work related interruptions, no matter how trivial they may be. It’s been shown that those who keep in contact with work while on holiday have higher levels of stress and work-family conflicts.
The next part of the “restorative holiday” equation is “how long should the holiday be”? Of course this will be partly dictated by how much annual leave you get and what you’re going to be doing. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to whip to Europe for a week, you’d spend most of that time travelling! For long distance travel you probably want to take a reasonable length of time off. However, here’s something to think about. Research into the effects of holidays show that when on holiday people reach “peak” happiness on about day 8. After that happiness levels tend to plateau or even drop. The recuperative effects and emotional boost from your holiday seem to wear off around a month after return to work (possibly even more quickly in high stress jobs). So rather than one big holiday a year several shorter ones might spread the restorative effects throughout the year and give you something to plan for and look forward to.
So, whatever it is you choose to do over the summer, think about Dr Sonnentag’s suggestions and have a restful and restorative break!
Jan Aitken Life Coach