Does the thought of the summer holidays fill you with excitement or leave you feeling stressed out? Whichever camp you are in, research tells us that holidays can be good for our wellbeing.
Our resident GP DR Laura Coia takes a look at why holidays are good for us and how we can make the most of our time off.
Why can holidays be stressful?
There are two ways we tend to feel when a summer holiday is approaching:
- The excitement of having a week or two off work or away from the daily routine
- The anticipation of a holiday somewhere nice with friends or family
- The prospect of enjoying good weather and al fresco dining
- The chance to switch off and get away from the computer and work emails
- The welcome relief of an escape from reality, even if it’s only for a short time
- The opportunity to relax and recharge the batteries
- The stress of having to organise and pack for yourself and often the whole family
- The pressure of spending an intense period of time with a partner, family or friends
- The stress of having to look after young children 24/7
- The holiday envy of seeing where your FB and Insta friends are heading – and the ‘perfect’ time they appear to be having
- The expense of paying for food, travel and entertainment
- The struggle to take toddlers and all their gear, or moody teenagers, away with you
- The stress of having to wear swimwear or more revealing summer clothes
- The fear that those new habits you’ve been building could be ruined by overindulgence
The latter are just a few of the reasons that summer holidays can sometimes turn out to be less than the relaxing break we had hoped for. We often set unrealistic expectations for ourselves that we can’t possibly meet and therefore we feel we’ve let people down by not achieving them. We try to cram way too much in. We stress about making everything ‘perfect’. We plan things with military precision – from what we’re doing to what we’ll wear.
Although the intent is to create the ideal holiday, in reality this often leads to exhaustion and potential conflict with the people you were hoping to enjoy time with. And then there’s the “I’m going to change everything when I get home” feeling, where we suddenly feel awful about ourselves and decide we’re going to overhaul our lives when we get home.
The result of all this can lead many of us to feel completely exhausted and stressed out – the exact opposite to what we were hoping to achieve by having a break in the first place.
For those who don’t get the dollop of dopamine at the prospect of a holiday, there are ways you can pivot your perspective to help manage the prospect more positively and as a result, enable you to relax more quickly and enjoy the time off.
Why we love the anticipation of a summer holiday
Travel is often linked to happiness. Counting down the days and hours to a holiday definitely makes you feel excited. How many of us have ticked off the days on the calendar or downloaded a holiday countdown app?
Research has shown that this anticipation can be a stronger feeling than the actual experience of the holiday. A study by Cornell University argued that people are happier when spending their money on doing something rather than buying a material possession because it allowed them to connect with others and share their story of that experience.
Planning for a holiday encourages us to be optimistic. We start thinking about what it will be like, the fun we’re going to have, the places we will go, how our lives will be enriched by new experiences. The thought of being free from laptops and endless streams of emails and juggling demanding workloads can be very liberating.
Why holidays are good for our mental health
Our mind needs a rest sometimes. The relentless nature of work, long hours spent in front of a computer screen or in physically demanding jobs, meeting deadlines, pressures for hitting sales targets – all this can lead to stress and trouble with sleeping and low mood. Those of us who care for relatives often find our own needs lie at the bottom of the pile and having a holiday is our opportunity to ‘re-fill our cup’.
By completely unplugging, switching off the phone, not looking at emails, not having to constantly achieve, we can take the chance to relax and gain a fresh perspective. We also usually spend more time outdoors and in nature on holiday. Often somewhere sunny.
Many of us spend less time looking at our watches and most of us turn off our morning alarm. All of these things help improve our mood and reduce stress. Being firm with yourself in doing this will ensure you reap the benefits.
Why holidays are good for our physical health
Summer holidays offer us the chance to spend more time resting. One of the most important aspects of this is sleep, something that is essential for brain function. Decent sleep not only helps lift our mood and boost our decision-making, it is also good for our physical health. Lack of sleep has been increasingly linked to a higher risk of certain medical conditions such as Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure. One study suggested longer holidays away from work help us live longer – now that’s what I call an incentive!
The move away from ‘work mode’ brings other physical health benefits. Too many people don’t switch off and keep checking their phones when they are on holiday because they’re worried about the extra workload when they get back, but we really should be more comfortable being away from work. Reduction in stress by taking time off can help reduce the risk of stress-related health conditions.
Make the most of your summer holidays
Holidays are fleeting so try to make the most of them without causing yourself more stress. The reality is, that life will most probably fall back into the same routine as it was in before you took a break – and that’s ok – but for a week or two at least, you will have slowed down the pace of life a little and that really is good for you.