How Vacations Can Affect Your Stress Levels

Couple relaxing in a hammock on a beach
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Many people don’t take vacations often enough. One study conducted by the U.S. Travel Association found that American workers had 768 million unused vacation days in 2017.

Now with increasing frequency, when people do take vacations, they often bring work along with them. This keeps people essentially still in the work mindset they are trying to escape. This is unfortunate for several reasons.

Promote Creativity

A good vacation can help us to reconnect with ourselves, operating as a vehicle for self-discovery and helping us get back to feeling our best.

Stave off Burnout

Workers who take regular time to relax are less likely to experience burnout, making them more creative and productive than their overworked, under-rested counterparts.

Can Keep You Healthy

Taking regular time off to ‘recharge your batteries’, thereby keeping stress levels lower, can keep you healthier.

Promote Overall Wellbeing

One study found that three days after vacation, subjects' physical complaints, their quality of sleep, and mood had improved as compared to before vacation. These gains were still present five weeks later, especially in those who had more personal time and overall satisfaction during their vacations.

Can Strengthen Bonds

Spending time enjoying life with loved ones can keep relationships strong, helping you enjoy the good times more and helping you through the stress of the hard times. In fact, a study by the Arizona Department of Health and Human Services found that women who took vacations were more satisfied with their marriages.

Can Help With Your Job Performance

As the authors of the above study suggest, the psychological benefits that come with more frequent vacations lead to increased quality of life, and that can lead to increased quality of work on the job.

Vacations Relieve Stress in Lasting Ways

It should come as no surprise that vacations that include plenty of free time bring stress relief, but research shows that a good vacation can lead to the experience of fewer stressful days at least five weeks later. That means that vacations are the gift to yourself that keeps on giving.

The bottom line is that taking a good amount of time away from the stresses of daily life can give us the break we need so that we can return to our lives refreshed and better equipped to handle whatever comes.

While not everyone is able to take a vacation, for those who can take several days or a few weeks off for a trip, even a short respite can be restorative.

One study showed that a four-day "long weekend" vacation had positive effects on well-being, recovery, strain, and perceived stress for as long as 45 days. While the reduction in strain was greater for those who spent the vacation away from home, the other effects were similar for those who stayed home.

For those who don’t have the time or money to take a ‘formal’ vacation, you can look into cheap vacations and creative ideas on how to get a nice break for less. And don't forget the option of taking a stay-cation or play-cation, too.

3 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. U.S. Travel Association. Study: a record 768 million U.S. vacation days went unused in '18, opportunity cost in the billions.

  2. Blank C, Gatterer K, Leichtfried V, Pollhammer D, Mair-Raggautz M, Duschek S, Humpeler E, Schobersberger W. Short vacation improves stress-level and well-being in German-speaking middle-managers-a randomized controlled trial. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2018;15(1):130. doi:10.3390/ijerph15010130

  3. Chikani V, Reding D, Gunderson P, McCarty CA. Vacations improve mental health among rural women: the Wisconsin Rural Women's Health Study. WMJ. 2005;104(6):20-3. PMID: 16218311.

By Elizabeth Scott, PhD
Elizabeth Scott, PhD is an author, workshop leader, educator, and award-winning blogger on stress management, positive psychology, relationships, and emotional wellbeing.