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Vacations Are Important for Stress Reduction and Wellness

SPRINGFIELD — What one little thing can achieve so many health and well-being goals, from reducing stress to strengthening family relationships to improving your job performance? The answer is: a vacation.

Americans might take a hint from Europeans, who rarely miss the chance for a relaxing vacation, averaging 25-30 vacation days from work each year and managing to use most of those days. But a new survey by Robert Half — a specialized staffing firm based out of Menlo Park, Calif. — shows 39% of workers this year won’t use all of the paid vacation time they’ve earned. Among those surveyed, 38% said they are saving days in case they need them, while 30% are afraid of falling behind on the job.

“We know that adequate rest and relaxation are essential for good mental and physical health,” said Dr. Stuart Anfang, medical director of Adult Outpatient Psychiatry at Baystate Medical Center. “Time off allows you to recharge, to reconnect with family and friends, and to refresh your mind and body.”

For example, a survey several years ago by the Mind Body Center at the University of Pittsburgh concluded that leisure-time activities, such as taking a vacation, resulted in higher positive emotional levels and less depression among the 1,399 participants, who had been recruited for studies on cardiovascular disease, breast cancer, and other diseases. Additional benefits included lower blood pressure and smaller waistlines.

But when workers do take time off this summer, it’s important, Anfang said, that they truly leave their work behind and take a break from all electronic distractions. “In our high-tech, wi-fi-connected world of cell phones, texts, and e-mails, it can be a challenge to disconnect from work and other responsibilities. Try unplugging for even just a few hours, or give yourself a day of electronic rest on a weekend or especially during vacation,” he added. “The e-mails and phone messages will still be there, and you can come back refreshed and ready to respond with renewed energy, focus, and attention.”

Yet another study from Hotwire.com, the American Travel Behavior Survey, concluded that 87% of Americans would prefer to take more leisure trips if they felt they had the time and money to do so. “Summer vacations are especially popular because of great weather and school break for families. Even if you can’t take off lots of time or afford a big trip, spending a weekend day doing something fun — not just errands and chores — can really be helpful and healthy,” Anfang said.

But where to go to decompress when you can’t afford the costs associated with a vacation, from plane tickets and eating out to hotels and gas? Options include going camping, visiting a nearby lake to cool off and relax, spending a day picnicking or swimming at a city or state park, taking day trips, or enjoying a ‘staycation’ by hanging out next to your backyard pool or lounging in a hammock and reading a good book.

“You don’t necessarily have to go very far or spend a lot of your hard-earned money to take a vacation,” Anfang said. “What is important is to get away from your normal daily routine to recharge your batteries by leaving work back at the office, doing something you really enjoy, or spending quality time with family.”

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