Vacations And Stress—The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly

by Doc Orman, M.D.

Vacations and stressIt’s early August, so much of the U.S. is in vacation mode.  

Summer is quickly winding down, and schools will be opening up again in just a few weeks.

Millions of people routinely schedule vacation time during the summer months.  And for many, vacations mean a welcome relief from the pressures and demands of their usual daily grinds.  Whether it’s leaving a high-pressure job or career behind, or just getting away from the daily chores of their normal family lives, many people look forward to vacations as a well-earned opportunity to temporarily reduce their stress.

But does it always turn out this way?   Despite that “taking a vacation” is a frequently recommended strategy for coping with stress, it may not be all that effective.  I’ll be exploring some of the reasons for this in all three of my blog posts for this week.  Today, I just want to go over some of the good, the bad, and the ugly about using vacations as a way to deal with your stress.

The Good

There’s no denying that vacations can be loads of fun.  Spending a week or two at the beach, or at a nice comfortable resort, or even just sightseeing in your car can all be very enjoyable.  And there certainly can be great benefits from leaving all your typical daily cares and worries behind, even if only temporarily.

From time to time, it’s good for you, and probably even healthy, to take a break from the hustle-bustle of your normal life.  When all goes well, vacations can be both relaxing and rejuvenating.   And there’s certainly nothing wrong with that.

The Bad

However, vacations don’t always go exactly as we plan.  In fact, sometimes they can produce their own types of added stress.  From the stress of planning your trip, to making all the necessary arrangements, to getting packed and making sure all your responsibilities are covered, to getting to the airport on time, or possibly running into unexpected travel delays—all of these things can works against your goal of peaceful relaxation.

And then there’s the matter of truly being able to leave your normal life behind, even for just a week.  So many people take their computers and cell phones with them on vacation and continue to transact normal “business” while away, to such a degree that their ability to disconnect, relax and “chill out” is seriously impaired. In addition, worrying about what’s going on at home or at work when you’re not there can also diminish the relaxation benefits of getting away.

The Ugly

Even worse, sometimes things can become even more stressful on vacation then they might have been if you had just stayed home.  When your wallet or other possessions get stolen, your luggage gets lost, or your car breaks down in the middle of some strange and foreign land, your stress levels can literally go through the roof—all very disappointing and stressful because you were expecting the exact opposite experience.

There can even be serious interpersonal conflicts, family clashes, or other unwanted conflicts that occur while you are on vacation or that perhaps were brought on by your trip.

Thus, vacations are not the stress-reducing panacea they’ve been made out to be.   Yes, they can help to some degree, but they are not good long-term solutions.

There’s also another key reason why vacations are not such a great coping strategy for dealing with our stress, and I’ll be discussing this reason in my next blog post on this topic. So look for this next installment, which will be posted here just two days from now.

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