So here’s the thing. I need a vacation. You probably do, too.
But we all know there’s no such thing as a vacation from health problems. Whether it’s chronic migraines, PTSD, or any other long-term health challenge, there’s no getting away from it. Wherever we go, there it is.
The pandemic can make a vacation seem even more pointless than usual. I mean, really. Where exactly can I go to “get away from it all?” What am I supposed to do? I’m lucky enough that my husband and I both still have jobs. Shouldn’t we be putting all our time into keeping those?
Besides, the plus of “real” vacations, even normal staycations, is the day trip. Bakery outings. Bowling night. Even back when I could barely afford my $400 rent, I would take a bus ride up to some other city and sip a cup of chai at a train station, then stroll a few blocks to a cozy library. Every time, no matter how low I’d been feeling, I stumbled into a buoyancy, a freshness, that felt almost like hope.
None of that will be happening this month.
But my husband and I still need our vacation. It’s our fifth anniversary this week. And though we won’t be spending it at a resort or getting spa treatments or eating out at some fancy restaurant, we’re still determined to have our getaway. Even if it’s only in our living room.
I’ve written here about how to incorporate some vacation into your staycation.
But this time I want to make a case for why we all need a serious staycation, stat.
- Vacations help us manage stress.
- I’ve been blogging lots about PTSD. As you all know by now, PTSD is a trauma-related disorder, a form of chronic stress that just won’t quit. But whether we have a mental health disorder that makes us especially susceptible to stress or just are feeling overwhelmed by the constant stream of bad news, it’s a good thing for all of us to take a break now and then. This doesn’t just decrease our risk for depression and other mood disorders, but it actually helps our bodies. Loads of stress hormones for extended periods can contribute to heart disease, asthma, gastrointestinal problems, decreased immunity, and nervous system disorders. If that’s still not enough to convince you, how about a study reported by the American Psychological Association? “Men who didn’t take a vacation for several years were 30 percent more likely to have heart attacks…The study found that skipping vacation for just one year could increase your risk of heart disease.” So cut the tough guy act, and just take a week off now and then. It just might add years to your life.
- Constant work doesn’t make us more productive. Vacations do.
- One of the first things I taught new college students was that if they felt stuck, they didn’t need to work harder. They just needed a break. There’s a reason why “Take five” is a classic line in rehearsals when the choreographer or director sees that the team’s energy is flagging. Lots of research supports this. It’s counterintuitive, but working harder doesn’t equal working better. Employees who take vacations are more productive than those who don’t, and they experience their work as easier. Even better, well-planned vacations that maximize our time relaxing and feeling safe especially enhance our efficiency when we return to our Zoom calls and email inboxes. In fact, employees who take vacations have a higher likelihood of getting raises. But don’t take it from me. Take it from the Harvard Business Review.
- Vacations give us time to connect meaningfully with ourselves and anyone we live with.
- When I lived alone, taking a week off to spend with myself was so wonderful. I could focus completely on self-care, which for me meant writing, jogging, meditation, and lots and lots of sleep. Now that I live with my husband and two cats, vacations are a different kind of self-care. And with lockdowns on the rise thanks to COVID, we already see a lot of each other every day. But most of that shared time is focused on chores or collapsing in front of the TV at the end of the day. Vacations, even staycations, can help us stop taking ourselves and our loved ones for granted. In fact, they’ve been proven to deepen family bonds. So even though we won’t be going anywhere, Josh and I are balancing our separate introvert time with our game nights and movie nights, writing dates and brunches. Fun may look different stuck in a small apartment, but we’re still going to make it count.
- Vacations provide time for hobbies and goals that we might otherwise put off until retirement.
- One of the last pearls of wisdom my grandma gave me was that you never know how much time you have, so do it now. With thousands of Americans dying each day from COVID, this feels more urgent than ever. True, in our case, a lot of this death was preventable (if you have doubts, just look at the strategies used in New Zealand, Vietnam, Singapore, and others). Still, it’s a vivid reminder that none of us knows the future, and we should do what matters most to us with the time we have, right now. So whether that’s writing a novel or making a family photo album or even planning your next vacation to Iceland, now’s the time. Take a few days or a week off work and commit to that project you thought you’d never get to until the kids are grown and you’ve retired.
In the end, when and how we take our vacations says a lot about our priorities and values. Vacations are not just self-care, but a form of self-expression. My grandma took vacations to play slots at casinos up and down the Pacific Northwest. My husband schedules an extra vacation every year in order to attend a film festival every day, for a week or two. I schedule off a whole week each spring just to write. Other friends I know schedule off time to travel. So what you do should be all about you.
But if we’ve learned anything today, I hope it’s that whatever kind of vacation we enjoy, we need to find some way to connect with it. Even now. Especially now. Our health, our loved ones, our dreams, and our careers will thank us.
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