Your body is designed to unleash stress hormones like cortisol and epinephrine when it senses danger. But the pressures of everyday life can set off the same reaction. Over time this can make you more likely to get depressed, gain weight, sleep poorly, and have other health problems. Getting away from time to time can give your body a chance to repair some of the damage.
Chances are that your mood will be better during vacation than in your day-to-day life. That feeling can last even in the several weeks of planning before you leave. But it's less clear if the post-trip buzz lasts as long. The key to happiness seems to depend on how often, not for how long, you get away.
BOOST YOUR HEART
How's this for an invitation to chill out? Taking time off may cut your chances of dying from coronary heart disease. The evidence can show up in lab tests, from lowered blood sugar levels to more HDL "good" cholesterol. One study found that the benefits may kick in only if you "staycation" often at home, not if you have to get out of town.
The daily grind can zap your ZZZs. Overwork may soak up the hours you need to spend in bed. Or family commitments or stress may keep you from falling asleep or staying asleep. That can leave you tired, groggy, grumpy, and even sick. Getaways are great for naps and snoozes. And if you plan your trip in advance, you'll sleep better both before and after your vacation.
Endless work with too few breaks can fog your brain. You might find it hard to concentrate and to remember things. Time away can recharge you mentally and physically, so you return more focused and energized. The payoff? You may become more productive both on the job and at home.
GET SICK LESS
Working too hard can send your adrenal system into overdrive. That releases hormones that may weaken your immunity. In turn, you may be more likely to get a cold or flu, and even more serious conditions like irritable bowel syndrome. Vacations let you take your foot off the gas pedal for a bit and allow your immune system to bounce back.
You might do it more often when you're on a holiday. More snuggle time with your partner probably helps. So might the drop in stress hormones like cortisol, which can dampen arousal and libido in both men and women.
Couples who travel together say they're happier and more satisfied in their relationships than those who don't. These strong romantic and other social bonds can help to stay physically and mentally fit, especially as you get older.
It makes sense that taking a vacation eases stress, which in turn means less wear on your body, better health, and more years added to your life. Scientists can't explain exactly how that happens. Research continues.
THE GOOD GETAWAY
Spending your holiday binge watching TV alone or hanging out with family members who stress you out won't leave you recharged. Take the time to carefully plan your trip and book your reservations ahead. Pick a destination where you'll feel safe and will have lots of time to hang out and connect with your loved ones.