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Leave and leisure: Why you should take a break from work

A young man on holiday. [iStockphoto]

It is important to take time out from work in order to fully live our lives, but there are several issues that can discourage us from taking annual leave. Some people have doubts about whether taking time out will allow for full psychological detachment from work, for example.

The fear that thoughts of work will invade our minds encourages many people to just keep working.

A common trend among those who are obsessively passionate about their work, these feelings can become overbearing, controlling their thoughts and making them unable to temporarily forget about work.

Another reason people do not take time off is that they do not expect to feel relaxed while on holiday. This may be due to their circumstances or choices made about how to spend time off.

In particular, family holidays may generate a lot of conflicts, sometimes becoming even more stressful than work. It’s unsurprising then that staying on at work instead of taking time out may be tempting for many.

Alternatively, some people fear the financial consequences of annual leave. Holidays are expensive, especially for large families, leading many to forgo their leave entitlement to save money.

These are just some examples of why people may avoid holidays, but regardless of the reason, taking time off – especially from demanding jobs – has immediate benefits in terms of decreasing stress and burnout.

These benefits are only temporary, with stress often climbing again shortly after returning to work. As such, regular respites throughout the year can help achieve the accumulative benefits of annual leave on health.

The good news is that taking time out for a week to two weeks is enough to recover and experience a boost of positive emotions. This will begin to decline as the time off comes to an end, but still offers the break needed to recharge your batteries.

Annual leave is also beneficial for employers, as it improves employee productivity by up to 40 per cent, reduces the likelihood of sick leave by 28 per cent, and boosts creativity and mental health. Taking time out is also essential for parents, as their children gain immense benefits from spending more time together.

How to get the best from annual leave

While these figures may have you reaching for your phone to search for package deals, the spike in travel disruption this summer may put you off from searching for the farthest-flung destination.

But you don’t need expensive foreign holidays to enjoy annual leave. Here are three vacation activities that can improve wellbeing, whether you are away or on a staycation:

Practice relaxation: Relaxation can involve simple breathing practices that can help reduce anxiety. An alternative that can have similar benefits is to use meditation techniques such as mindfulness.

Spend time in nature: When on annual leave, try to spend as much time as you can in nature because it is associated with an improvement in both emotional and psychological health. It doesn’t matter what you do when enjoying nature; you can be active, for example walking, running, gardening, or simply sitting on a park bench or spending time sky-gazing.

Engage your brain: Take time off as an opportunity to develop your interests. If you love reading, plan to read a few books over the holiday. Research shows these activities support our minds and our moods, regardless of age. There are additional benefits if you help your children enjoy books over the summer. 

Jolanta Burke is a Senior Lecturer, Centre for Positive Psychology and Health, RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences. This article was first published in The Conversation.