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How Do Paid Vacations Affect Mental Health?

By HERWriter
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group of friends with guitar on beach Photo: Getty Images

What’s better than being paid to go on vacation? Most people will agree that this phenomenon is one of the better things to happen in life, but unfortunately many Americans aren’t getting the chance to experience paid vacations.

Generally, the longer employees are with their companies, the more paid time off they get. For example, Bureau of Labor statistics show that in March 2009 “among employees with 20 years of service, 38 percent received 20 to 24 paid vacation days a year.” Those who hadn’t worked for 20 years didn’t receive 20 to 24 paid vacation days very often.

Although some people are getting paid vacations, shouldn’t everyone get at least some time off? I mean, none of the above statistics ever showed even 50 percent of employees getting paid time off for any time length.

One piece of legislation called the Paid Vacation Act of 2009 would require at least one week of paid vacation time for employees with certain requirements, like needing to work for an employer for a year. However, it was never passed.

Although this is unusual, some companies even offer unlimited paid vacation time, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Julie Ménard, a psychology professor at the Université du Québec à Montréal in Canada, said in an e-mail that whether people take vacations or not depends on the culture of the organization they work for.

“It can be hard to ask for a vacation break when no one or very few are actually taking vacations,” Ménard said.

It can also depend on the individual.

“Some people find it more difficult to psychologically detach from work,” she said. “They tend to think a lot about work, in a negative way. Thus, they tend to ruminate about what happened at work during the day and also about what could happen if they were not there. This could be more difficult for them to take vacations. And even if they do, is it really a break?”

Regardless of individual factors, generally vacations are a positive experience, especially regarding mental health.

“Even after a short break, we can observe a reduction in the level of fatigue and emotional exhaustion,” Ménard said. “So if vacations don’t mean having the obligation to work twice as hard once [one] goes back to work, vacations typically have a positive impact on mental health and well-being.”

For those who don’t have the option right now to take paid vacations (or any vacations at all), there are still other ways to have positive mental health effects, like stress reduction.

“Being involved in highly pleasurable activities that leads to full absorption can be an easy way to create a respite effect,” Ménard said. “What is important is that this activity will give you an opportunity to enjoy yourself and be fully absorbed into something else than work.”

Pamela Perrewe, a professor in the College of Business at Florida State University, said in an e-mail that vacations are beneficial to mental health.

“Not only can one connect with loved ones, but traveling [and] meeting new people…can help to put work into perspective,” Perrewe said. “Sometimes working constantly elevates the importance of every decision you make.”

Like Ménard, she said that returning from vacation can sometimes be stressful.

“When one returns from a trip, the anxiety may increase, at least initially, as one tries to play catch-up with the current demands all that was left undone while on vacation,” Perrewe said.

The economy could also play a factor in people choosing not to take vacations.

“In this recession, many may be fearful that they will be laid off if viewed as not making their job a priority,” Perrewe said.

She said that as a parent of young children, sometimes vacations are “more of a hassle.”

“Once the children can enjoy the vacation and the parental role is not total maintenance with children, then it is less stressful,” Perrewe said.

One way employees can experience stress relief without going on vacation is to enjoy family time.

“I used to use my children as my ‘reality check’ from work,” Perrewe said. “Work stressors would bother me, but the minute I got home, the love of my family put everything into perspective.”

However, work can also be an escape from family life at times.

“I think mental health has a lot to do with re-framing your situation,” Perrewe said.



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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.