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Why Taking Holidays is Essential for Your Health

If you've been avoiding taking leave from work you may want to think twice. Taking regular breaks can help your mental and physical health. Skyscanner spoke with two mental health experts to find out why taking breaks is so important.

If you needed another reason to take a holiday, here it is: taking regular breaks is good for your health.

Numerous studies have found that taking regular holidays lessens your risk of dying from any cause other than old age and minimises the risk of heart disease.

Taking regular breaks also helps reduce stress, which can lead to a variety of health problems like obesity, depression and anxiety.

If you’ve just used up a bunch of leave over the festive season and won’t be able to take a holiday for a long time, there’s still good news for you. Researchers from the Netherlands found that the simple act of planning for a holiday led to a large boost in happiness, and that happiness lasted for eight weeks.

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“Taking regular leave reduces stress, improves productivity and general wellbeing. Taking leave is also associated with greater life satisfaction, particularly because time off often provides us with the opportunity to spend quality time with family and friends, experience new things or new ways of being,” Joanna Fishman, director of Associated EAP, a corporate psychology services provider, told Skyscanner.

“Holiday periods are a time for reflection where people have an opportunity to re-evaluate their life and ask themselves important questions about their life satisfaction. Returning from holidays, we find that our clients are often extra eager and energised to make life changes and work on the issues that have been troubling them. We therefore see holidays as a helpful lever towards positive change in our client’s lives,” she said.

A 2016 study found that approximately half a million workers in Australia have accrued four or more weeks of leave, yet have no plans to take a holiday in the foreseeable future.

Many workers feel guilty about taking their leave, but Fishman says failing to take breaks is counterproductive.

“We find that many of our clients feel an intense pressure not to take leave as they feel entirely responsible for their workload. This is a well-known cognitive error and staff are often surprised to learn that everything went fine during their absence. We also operate as part of a tribe, and some people may be inter-personally sensitive to the judgement of others when they choose to take leave,” she said.

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Fishman says it’s important managers and employees understand that taking holidays actually enhances productivity in the workplace and improves work life balance.

Stephanie Lau is an educational and developmental psychologist and the brains behind The Holiday Psychologist, a movement aimed at promoting wellbeing and work-life balance through taking holidays.

She says working too hard without taking breaks throughout the year can be severely detrimental to a person’s overall health.

“There are a number of significant physical and mental health consequences which may arise from the act of working too much and limiting time for self-care. By having limited access to breaks, psychological symptoms of stress and burnout can lead to symptoms of significant physical illness. This can in turn lead to low mood, feelings of negative self-worth, low levels of self-confidence, anxiety and depression,” she told Skyscanner.

“We may experience feelings of inadequacy, simply due to feeling overwhelmed or uninspired by working too much – something that is preventable if breaks are taken.”

Fishman has many clients who work 55-60 hour weeks all year without taking a break. This can have a negative impact on family dynamics and result in people becoming disconnected from those around them.

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Failing to take a holiday from work can also cause people to become obsessive about their work and unable to disconnect. This can ultimately lead to feelings of anxiety and depression. Fishman says workers need to develop mechanisms for being able to completely switch off and disconnect from work, and taking a holiday is a big part of that.

For the mental and physical health benefits alone, she says, it’s time to start thinking about your next break.

“Don’t get caught in the loop of thinking that you can’t afford the time to take leave. In the long run, your productivity and your happiness depends on it,” Fishman said.

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