By Dr Lynda Shaw, neuroscientist, business psychologist and change specialist.
The past year has been incredibly tough and unpredictable, and the uncertainty and constant changes have increased our stress and anxiety levels. Many of us are hoping to take a holiday this summer, whether that is in this country or perhaps abroad. Here is why taking a holiday is so important to our physical and mental health.
- Holidays improve our physical health… Working without breaks creates an imbalance in hormone levels and increases inflammatory processes which weakens the immune system, making you more susceptible to colds, viruses and other illnesses. Giving your body frequent periods of rest prevents poor health and can reduce the chances of serious medical conditions like heart disease, cancer, obesity and diabetes.
- Holidays help our mental health… Overworking and overstimulating our brains makes our neurons more excitable and alert which leads to trouble sleeping, mood swings, short temperedness, and poor memory, focus and confusion. More serious mental health problems can also occur like depression and anxiety. Holidays do the reverse and help us take time to find solutions to problems and to be relaxed in the moment.
- Holidays help consolidate and process memories… and make happy ones…During periods of rest our brains take time to process and sort memories so that we are more prepared for work and normal home life when we get back.
- Holidays strengthen bonds… Quality time with partners, children, other family members and friends strengthens social bonds. This last year has shown how unpredictable and tough life can be and as pack animals, and how we rely on a strong social infrastructure for support. Spending time with your children also boosts their self-esteem, sense of security and family values.
- Holidays decrease burnout… Burnout can influence every aspect of your life from relationships to physical and mental health. One of the main ways to tackle burnout is taking time off to relax. Time off helps to ease feelings of stress and anxiety, alleviating pressure and feelings of burnout.
- Holidays help us catch up on sleep… Holidays allow us to catch up on sleep which is essential for brain function. Whilst we are asleep our brains consolidate information and memories from the day which improves our mental functioning, problem solving, memory and creativity. Studies show that people with depression often have less than six hours sleep per night, meaning they do not have enough deep sleep and REM sleep, which is when the brain is restored. In fact, prolonged time awake can actually result in the loss of a certain type of brain cell known as the locus ceruleus which regulates norepinephrine. The more norepinephrine the less likely we can achieve REM sleep.
- Holidays sharpen your mind… Giving your brain a break from the daily activities you undertake at work and at home by doing something new helps establish stronger connections between brain cells which improves the learning process and concentration. Spending more time resting boosts creativity, problem solving skills and also makes us more efficient. Information is also transmitted from one part of the brain to another more effectively, improving recall.
- Holidays boost your creativity… Research has found that the brain gradually stops registering sense stimuli such as sight, sound or feeling if that stimulus remains consistent for long periods. This may cause us to lose focus and diminish performance and creativity. Taking regular breaks and time off helps to prevent this, leaving us more motivated and creative.
- Holidays make us more active especially outdoors… Most of us spend more time outside on our holidays which is hugely beneficial to our health. For example, studies have found that going for a walk outside lowers blood pressure, stress levels, improves focus, helps us heel quicker, slows ageing and simply make us happier! Exercise helps to boost your creativity even more by increasing oxygen flow to the brain. In addition to enjoying it on holidays, incorporate time outdoors into your daily routine, especially if you have a desk job.
- Holidays encourage us to try something new… like open water swimming, a segway, a new type of food, footgolf, a barge trip, an open air cinema or learning about a new culture. Trying new things allows us to expand our minds, learn and step out of our comfort zone which expands our horizons and increases productivity, inspiration and knowledge.