Vacations – Unplugged And Then Some – For Health and Well-being

On the East Bay in Traverse City, Michigan
On the East Bay in Traverse City, Michigan

Friday marks the official start of summer, and for many, summer is vacation time.

Research has found that vacations are beneficial for health and well-being, at least in the short run.

For example, one study¹ looked at fifty-three employees and measured physical complaints and the quality of sleep and mood both 10 days before and 3 days after vacations. These measures all improved. And then, again, five weeks after vacations, the employees still reported fewer physical complaints. The study concluded that vacations may improve well-being on a short-term basis.

Perhaps not surprisingly, though, it depends on the nature of the vacation. For example, other studies² have found that:

    • Health-related vacation outcomes depend on how a vacation is organized.
    • Choosing especially pleasant vacation activities is better for health and well-being.
    • Working during a vacation negatively influences health and well-being after vacation.

Stress has adverse effects on health, which means that reducing stress is good for health. So one point of a vacation is to vacate our work and it’s responsibilities and any related stress.

But talk about a stressful vacation situation: I recently watched the movie “What about Bob?” again. A Psychiatrist – Dr. Leo Marvin played by Richard Dreyfuss – goes on a month-long summer vacation at a beautiful lakeside home with his family and Bob Wiley – one of his patients played by Bill Murray – shows up at his doorstep. Trying desperately to preserve his vacation, Dr. Marvin tells Bob to just take a vacation from his problems. Of course, Bob takes that vacation where Dr. Marvin is taking his vacation so that he can see him each day, and Bob even ends up staying at Dr. Marvin’s vacation home one night. Well, you get the point – the doctor’s vacation doesn’t turn out so stress free, to put it mildly.

Our work doesn’t usually pursue us quite that much. But still, it can be challenging today to leave work behind for a helpful vacation. According to the Pew Research Center³, 34% of American adults (almost 80 million) own a tablet computer and 56% of American adults (over 130 million) own smartphones. It’s so easy and tempting to stay connected to work while away.

Paul Miller of The Verge recently finished an experiment4 where he stayed off of the Internet for a whole year. At first he experienced less noise and anxiety and more peace. He described it like this:

    • “As my head uncluttered, my attention span expanded.”
    • “I found I was more aware of others in the moment.”

But later in the year offline, he found he could make different but equally poor or passive choices of things to do while offline – things that were no more useful or stress free simply because he was doing them offline.

A study5 by the University of Michigan Health System published in Explore: The Journal of Science and Healing examined the health benefits of a nondenominational spiritual retreat. It measured depression, hope, spiritual well-being and perceived stress. The group with the best results – especially an increase in hope and decrease in depression – used a four-day intervention that included guided imagery, meditation, drumming, journal writing and nature-based activity.

Spirituality & Health Magazine headquartered in Traverse City, Michigan has an online listing6 of over forty retreats. Their website says these retreats are opportunities to:

    • Walk in silence;
    • Jump in an ocean;
    • Snowshoe through a meadow;
    • Practice meditation;
    • Open your heart;
    • Quiet your mind.

A vacation is a little different than a retreat – less formal and more individual perhaps – but it can provide similar opportunities. And some people do of course take retreats on their vacation.

Earlier this month I vacationed in Traverse City and enjoyed spending more time with family, sitting in a chaise looking out over the bay, reading a novel, laying in the sun, and spending time praying. It allowed me to leave the demands and stress of work behind and “quiet my mind”.

Even centuries ago, when life certainly wasn’t full of online demands, getting away was helpful. The Bible relates7 how Jesus, who was sometimes pressed upon by crowds of people seeking his help, once went up into a mountain to get away and pray. And evidently he was inspired and rejuvenated because when he returned he was able to help many who were sick find comfort and health.

If that was the result of his version of a vacation, just think what benefit we might all derive from choosing quiet, unplugged time to commune with the divine.

If you’re taking a vacation this summer, let it be one that’s good for health. And, of course, have fun!


To watch the trailer to the movie, click here: What about Bob?.
¹  Study: Occup Med (Lond). 2000 Apr;50(3):167-72. Does vacation enable recuperation? Changes in well-being associated with time away from work.  Strauss-Blasche G, Ekmekcioglu C, Marktl W. Department of Physiology, University of Vienna, Austria.
²  Studies: (1) J Travel Med. 2005 Mar-Apr;12(2):94-101. Effect of vacation on health: moderating factors of vacation outcome.; Strauss-Blasche G, Reithofer B, Schobersberger W, Ekmekcioglu C, Marktl W.; Department of Physiology, Medical University of Vienna, Austria.
(2) Psychol Health. 2011 Dec;26(12):1606-22. doi: 10.1080/08870446.2010.546860. Epub 2011 Jun 28.; How does a vacation from work affect employee health and well-being?; de Bloom J, Geurts SA, Sonnentag S, Taris T, de Weerth C, Kompier MA.; Department of Work and Organizational Psychology, Behavioural Science Institute, Radboud University, Nijmegen, The Netherlands.
(3) Stress Health. 2012 Oct;28(4):305-18. doi: 10.1002/smi.1434. Epub 2011 Dec 28. Effects of short vacations, vacation activities and experiences on employee health and well-being. de Bloom J, Geurts SA, Kompier MA. Department of Work and Organizational Psychology, Behavioural Science Institute, Radboud University Nijmegen, The Netherlands.
³ Tablet Ownership 2013, Smartphone Ownership 2013. See also: 2010 U.S. Census: Table 7. Resident Population by Sex and Age: 1980 to 2010.
4  The Verge. I’m still here: back online after a year without the internet By Paul Miller on May 1, 2013
5   Sara L. Warber,Sandra Ingerman,Vera L. Moura,Jenna Wunder,Alyssa Northrop,Brenda w. Gillespie,Kate Durda,Katherine Smith,Katherine S. Rhodes,Melvyn Rubenfire. Healing the Heart: A randomized Pilot Study of a Spiritual Retreat for Depresson in Acute Coronary Syndrome Patients; EXPLORE: The Journal of Science and Healing, July-August 2011, Elsevier.
6  Spirituality & Health 2013 Retreat Guide.
 Luke 6:12-19.
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