When we aren’t in the middle of a global health crisis, the New Year isn’t just a time for champagne and resolutions, but an exciting new lap around the sun to travel far and wide. Many avid travelers look forward to their journeys to other continents — whether it’s a European wine country or the never-ending blue skies and sea of the Caribbean. But as we enter into 2021, you may hesitate to think about vacation days. After all, with no real timeline on when borders will open, or it will be safe to travel, it’s hard to dream up vacations.
However, experts still stress the importance of taking time away from work even if you don’t go anywhere. It’s something that some Americans struggle with, especially since, according to a study, a record 768 million paid-time-off days went unused in 2018. While it’s essential to be productive and effective in your career, it’s also vital to disconnect, rejuvenate and allow your mind to be at ease. Here, we spoke with career coaches and therapists on why you should go ahead and reserve your time off ASAP:
People who take their vacation time are healthier
To put it simply, author and executive coach Karen Warner, MAPP, says skipping vacation is choosing a lifestyle of stress — even if you’ve convinced yourself it’s for all the right reasons. The reality is being responsible for ongoing deadlines, endless meetings, managing others and strategizing is exhausting — and no one is built for that type of constant demand.
And in some cases, it could put your health at risk. One study compared 600,000 professionals in Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom. Some of them put in the reasonable 35 to 40 hours a week into their job, while others clocked more than 55 hours. Those in the 35 to 40-hour category were 33 percent less likely to suffer a stroke and had a 13 percent lower risk of cardiovascular disease.
By taking time away from the office (even if it’s a remote one in your home), you teach your body to be at peace, rather than always moving and working. This is vital since Warner says you can lose your ability to disconnect if you don’t practice. “The more you work, the more you tamper with your ability to relax when you need to,” she continues. “People who do take their vacations are shown to sleep better, eat better, and stick to a regular fitness routine. In the end, this adds up to living longer with a higher quality of life.”
People who take their vacation are less likely to feel burnt out
Even if you’re one of the lucky ones who loves your job and looks forward to working every day, there are some moments when it’s not rosy. Or you dread it. Or you become frustrated with specific tasks, projects or people. Suppose you continue to push through these feelings without addressing them. In that case, you could feel burnout, leading to job dissatisfaction and anxiety, according to Erica Riba, a licensed clinical social worker and the director of higher education and student engagement for The Jed Foundation. Especially during the pandemic, many feel stretched to their thinnest and experience higher stress levels, exhaustion and fatigue. It’s essential to nip these feelings before they take over your psyche and your life — and a vacation is a right way to do just that.
“Taking a day or two off, even if it just means sleeping in, catching up on TV, or taking a walk, can help,” she shares. “Checking in with family or friends, eating a balanced diet, and getting enough sleep are ways to reduce burnout.”
People who take their vacation time experience greater levels of well-being
Reflect on one of your favorite trips. Perhaps a family beach getaway, a two-week backpacking trek through South East Asia, or a cozy ski cabin in the wilderness. How did you feel coming back from that trip? Likely, you were able to release your stressors, connect to nature, and return home, ready to share stories from the road. As Warner explains, all humans need downtime so our bodies can restore themselves. “People who take their vacation time to recharge and feel calmer, experience more clarity and peace of mind,” she explains. “This sets in motion an upward spiral of creativity, broadening our view of available options. It gives us more to work with.”
People who take their vacation time are more successful at work
We all have one friend who seems never to sleep, never eat, never watch the TikTok videos we sent them. Instead, their life revolves all-around work — and it’s the only thing they talk about. And yet? They seem unhappy and tend to complain about how they aren’t recognized for their dedication. As Warner says, many professionals make the mistake of becoming martyrs of their work and thinking that giving 110 percent all the time will lead to raises and promotions. Instead, it sort of has the opposite impact, at least according to one study conducted by Harvard Business Review. They found that employees who had fewer than ten vacation days a year had only a 34.6 percent likelihood of receiving a raise or bonus over a three-year period. However, those who took more than ten had a 64.5 percent chance.
People who take their vacation have a better work/life balance
You may laugh at the thought of separating your personal and professional lives these days, especially if you are a remote worker for the foreseeable future. This year has been problematic for everyone seeking a balance since we now have built-in stressors that have nothing to do with our jobs. “You cannot possibly recharge on a steady calendar of back-to-back Zoom calls, interspersed with drop-ins by the kids to clarify an online classroom assignment. Or, peppered with all those phone calls to the outside world, like checking in on your mom. And arranging home repairs; dealing with slow internet, or lining up a curbside food delivery,” she explains.
But, as a silver lining, perhaps 2020 has taught us there is much more to life than work, work, work, and we should take time to invest in self-care. “While COVID-19 has altered so many aspects of our everyday lives, the one thing you do control is not only how to spend your free time,” she shares. “And that’s done by allowing yourself to take that time in the first place.”