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Why You Need to Take a Vacation This Year, Even If You Don't Go Far

Man with young girl on his shoulder both admiring the forest surrounding them

Images by Tang Ming Tung / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • Feelings of burnout, anxiety and depression are at an all-time high after a year of navigating a global pandemic, collective trauma and balancing work and personal lives.
  • Taking a designated vacation can greatly benefit your mental health and replenish your energy reserves.
  • You can even "vacation" in your own home, as long as you're intentional about taking time off.

We could all use a vacation right about now. After a year of collective trauma, job insecurity or heavy workloads and astronomical amounts of stress, a little time to unplug and unwind could do wonders for the mind and body.

But the reality is that taking time off work doesn't always feel like an easy thing to do.

"I've heard in my sessions 'I haven't taken a proper vacation for over a year and I'm not sure when I'll be able to take one,'" says psychologist and executive coach Marie-Helene Pelletier, PhD, MBA.

What's happening, she says, is that we've come to define vacation in a specific way. And this past year's restrictions have prevented us from replicating what we've become familiar with, whether that's long flights, foreign countries or bustling attractions.

But vacation can manifest in different ways, and it's also, perhaps, never been more necessary to take time off. It's no coincidence that, in a year of little separation between home life and work life, we've seen an increase in feelings of anxiety and depression.

"We need to broaden our definition of vacation," Pelletier says. "The need for a break is critical for our well-being, our mental health, and if we really want to be work-focused, it is also critical to ensure our brain functions optimally from a cognitive perspective, so we continue to maintain quality of work."

All Work and No Play

With the unrelenting stress of the pandemic and its impact on work, feelings of burnout are on the rise. More than ever before, individuals are feeling exhausted, cynical, and less capable at work.

A recent poll from job search site Indeed revealed that 52% of respondents are feeling burned-out in 2021. This is a 9% increase from Indeed's poll prior to the pandemic. Most affected are individuals in the millennial and Gen-Z categories, with 59% and 58% reporting experiencing burnout this year, respectively.

Scott Hyman, PhD

Excessive work without periods of recuperation and opportunities to engage in rewarding activities can lead to burnout or the development of mental health disorders.

— Scott Hyman, PhD

This heightened risk stems partially from fewer opportunities for real breaks or separation from a seemingly endless workload this past year.

"Excessive work without periods of recuperation and opportunities to engage in rewarding activities can lead to burnout or the development of mental health disorders," says Scott Hyman, PhD, psychologist and educator at Pritikin Longevity Center.

"Our ability to respond to challenges, stay on task, and control our emotions and behaviors can be replenished with rest and the positive emotions we naturally feel from taking even brief vacations and engaging in fun and meaningful activities."

Redefining Vacation

Regardless of where you go or what you do, a vacation should provide: a break from normal daily life, a boost to mental and/or physical wellness, a life-enriching adventure or some combination of all three, says Estee Gubbay, travel advisor and author of "Your Travel Bucket List: The Ultimate Guide to Enrich Your Life with Great Adventures and Unforgettable Memories."

"Everyone's due for the vacation where you just want to get away," Gubbay says. "Since we've all been cooped up, literally, we're dying to get out there and experience something new. There's a reason why phrases like 'get out of Dodge' and 'get a change of scenery' are important to our mental health."

Estee Gubbay, Travel advisor

First decide what kind of experience you want to have, and then find the best place to do it.

— Estee Gubbay, Travel advisor

But you don't necessarily need to travel across the country to achieve these things—it could happen in the next town over. In fact, a staycation at a local hotel or even in your own home is a budget-friendly option that can still provide mental health benefits, Gubbay says.

And while longer vacations may give you more time to unwind, if you're disconnecting from work, filling your time with activities you enjoy and allowing yourself to truly relax, taking even just one day of paid time-off from the comfort of your home can still provide relief.

"You just have to be really intentional about that day," Gubbay says. "Have a real plan."

Planning Your Vacation

If you're just getting started on planning your vacation or staycation, Gubbay suggests first asking yourself a question: What do I want to experience?

"I find that people don't ask themselves that the entire time they're planning a vacation," she says. "They say, 'Where's the best place to go?' or 'What are your top three favorite places?' And I say why do you care about my top three places? First decide what kind of experience you want to have, and then find the best place to do it."

To do this, consider your hobbies and interests. If you're an active person, an outdoor adventure vacation or virtual yoga retreat might suit you. If you love to cook, look into destinations based on their local cuisine, or search for Zoom cooking lessons that bring a new experience to you.

And if you're just looking for some peace and quiet to catch up on your reading, opt for a more remote location with appealing scenery.

If the whole family is in on this trip, include everyone in this conversation—even, and especially, the children. They'll often come up with creative ideas.

When you've got a few options in mind, compare them to your budget and the amount of vacation time that's available to you. Figure out what works best without putting pressure on yourself or fellow planners. And once you've settled on a plan, allow yourself to enjoy the time leading up to your vacation, however long it may be.

“The anticipation of a trip is as good if not better than the trip itself,” Gubbay says.

What This Means For You

Vacation time allows us to recuperate from the stress of work and daily life. This year, it's especially important to prioritize some time to unplug and unwind, even if that's from the comfort of your own home.

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  1. Mental Health America. The state of mental health in America. Updated October 19, 2020.