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RX: Take a Vacation

Vacation season is upon us. However, surveys show that the average American no longer takes a long vacation. If one is lucky, they might take the now-popular micro vacation which is at most two or three days off. Are you guilty of this? When is the last time you took a long vacation—a true vacation with no communication whatsoever with the office with no emails, text messages or phone calls—that lasted more than five days? If you are struggling to answer this question then you may truly need time off as you may be in danger of being a “workaholic.” Workaholism is as much of an addiction as smoking or binge drinking. We currently live in a world where our laptops and smartphones follow us everywhere and keep us connected to some form of work during the day and night.

What people don’t realize is every time they look through their e-mail, scan their text messages or browse the internet they are firing up the dopamine-reward system in their brain. The frequency to which they do this leads to overstimulation of the brain, which triggers a defense mechanism that causes the brain to build a tolerance against too much dopamine. In turn, it takes even more stimulation—more time spent on their electronic devices—to achieve the same dopamine high. This, combined with the adrenaline rush that comes from working under tight deadlines, creates a constant craving for work and play on electronic devices.

It’s an exhausting and vicious cycle if you let it get the best of you. However, a long vacation can help you break the chains of the nine-to-five grind. I highly recommend, if you haven’t taken a vacation in the past year, to start planning one now before you find yourself in a workaholism rehab center (they exist!). A long vacation without emailing, texting or internet browsing can increase your productivity and relax the demand you place on yourself. In 2006, research from former NASA scientists, in collaboration with Air New Zealand, showed that vacationers experience an 82 percent increase in job performance post-trip. More proof that a vacation away from the constant use of a phone or laptop can give your system a much-needed reboot.

As a recovering workaholic, I am going to warn you that you may experience challenging withdrawal symptoms so it is important to have a plan in place. Here are my tips:

  • As with all addictions, ‘going cold turkey’ is best! Commit to NO contact with the office during your trip. One simple call, email, text can prompt a downward spiral.

  • Choose a vacation spot where you will not be tempted to work, somewhere with limited access to computers or wireless internet. If you notify your office that you will be unreachable during your trip, then you set the expectation for a work-free vacation not only for your office, but especially for yourself. Today, some hotels offer a lock-up area for such devices to help you put away work and enjoy your time there.

  • While you are deciding where to go make sure it is a place with many activities. Remember you are used to being busy at work. Therefore, sitting on the beach doing nothing may bore you to death and make resuming work all the more appealing. Your best bet is to find a vacation getaway that has activities already planned for you, like a bus tour or cruise. I highly recommend planning a vacation where you can spend some time reconnecting with nature, a big change from spending so much time indoors at work.

  • If you want to take your vacation to the next level, I recommend finding a yoga meditation retreat. According to the study, “Effects of Yoga Versus Walking on Mood, Anxiety, and Brain GABA Levels: A Randomized Controlled MRS Study,” published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, yoga can actually achieve changes on a neurological level, helping to balance the brain. Yoga is also a great way to detoxify the body of toxins and can have great emotional healing benefits. Breathing is a huge component in yoga and breathing techniques bring in more oxygen which in turn helps release stress and anxiety. Healing yourself while on vacation—what more could one ask for?

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