As I sat at my desk daydreaming about my family’s upcoming August beach vacation and remembering good times from last year’s beach trip with the kids, I began to feel the anxiety creeping in. I think you know the kind of anxiety I’m talking about: worry about falling behind on work, concern that my lack of preparation will end up creating more work for my colleagues, and most especially, dreading the 1,000 or more unopened emails that will be sitting in my inbox on my first day back from vacation. I know I’m not alone in experiencing such pre-vacation anxiety. In fact, anxiety about missing work is one of the reasons that over half of American workers did not use all of their (PDF link) vacation days in 2015. Although I certainly don’t consider myself a work martyr, I couldn’t help wondering whether taking time off was even worth it.
Are you one of those people who is unsure whether it’s worth it to take a vacation? Worried about the looming pile of work you’ll return to? Despite limited research on this topic, several studies suggest that it’s well worth it to take even a short vacation from work. (PDF link) Jessica DeBloom and colleagues in the Netherlands found that even long weekends can have positive impacts on health and well-being. But because the effects of both shorter and longer vacations wore off within about a week of returning to work, the researchers suggest planning more than one vacation per year.
Even more convincing, (PDF link) a study published in 2000 examined mortality among middle-aged men in a 9-year follow-up to the Multiple Risk Factor Intervention Trial. The authors used data from the early years of the trial on whether the men had taken a vacation in the past year and found a relative risk of mortality from any cause equal to 0.83 for more frequent annual vacationers relative to less frequent annual vacationers (in other words, more frequent vacationers had lower risk of dying during the 9 year follow-up). Strikingly, the relative risk of mortality from coronary heart disease was 0.68 for the more frequent vacationers. Analysis of women from the Framingham Heart Study who were followed for 20 years after the study also showed a greater incidence of heart attack or coronary death for women who rarely vacationed compared with those who vacationed more frequently. Of course, it is difficult in all of these observational analyses to fully control for other differences between the vacationers and non-vacationers that may also affect their heart attack and heart disease mortality risk. But instead of waiting around for more evidence, I will start packing.
And while the stress of planning for time away from the office remains, I remind myself that my day-to-day work is neither so critical nor so time-sensitive that it couldn’t wait a week or be completed by someone else. Time to set my out-of-office email and prepare to unwind. Hope you will do the same this summer.