Time out from everyday life: how holidays work - and how we find relaxation

Summer time means sending the soul to the hammock.

Time out from everyday life: how holidays work - and how we find relaxation

Summer time means sending the soul to the hammock. Holidays are good for you - and have a positive effect on your health. What it takes for us to find good rest when traveling and at home.

Close your laptop, open your suitcase, put your bathing suit in and off you go on vacation! But even if the desk has been exchanged for the beach, relaxation is not guaranteed: thoughts continue to revolve around problems, the boss calls and your partner has completely different ideas about vacation than you do. So how do you manage to make the trip as relaxing as possible to design? And how does such a vacation affect your health?

Psychologist Barbara Horvatits-Ebner says it takes more than just relaxation to come back from vacation refreshed. While relaxation initially only describes reduced activity, recovery has strong positive effects on body and psyche. "Stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol decrease, blood pressure drops, muscle tension decreases and sleep often improves," lists Horvatits-Ebner, who combines her passion for travel with her specialist knowledge on her blog, reisepsycho.com.

For this effect to occur, one thing is important: being able to switch off. That says Prof. Gerhard Blasche, who researches at the Medical University of Vienna - on the question of how leisure time, holidays and spa stays can promote health.

Distraction helps to block them out, especially when thoughts keep revolving around the same problem. The first step there is often a change of location, says Prof. Blasche. The time interval can also help: the longer something is in the past, the less acutely it concerns us. A big advantage of vacation: you concentrate more on the moment, you are in a more positive mood. According to the psychologist, this also makes it easier to switch off.

It is at least as important not to be constantly reminded of work and everyday life. "Not being available can be very relaxing," says psychologist Horvatits-Ebner. Before going on vacation, you should therefore clearly communicate that you will not be available for this period. If you don't want to do without your smartphone completely, you can, for example, switch off push notifications for e-mails or block certain telephone numbers for the duration of your vacation.

Ultimately, recovery begins with the planning. The advice of the psychologist Horvatits-Ebner is therefore: "It is best to keep one day free before and one day after the trip for preparation and follow-up work." If you take this time, you not only start your vacation more relaxed - it is also easier to return to work and the recovery effect lasts longer. "It's best not to set any appointments in the first few working days after vacation," says Prof. Blasche. After all, after a few days of relaxation, the stress at work often seems even stronger.

Stress factors can also be avoided when planning a holiday, says Horvatits-Ebner. This applies to arrival and departure as well as activities on site. For example, when couples go on vacation with different ideas, quarrels or dissatisfaction can quickly arise, the psychologist observes. Her advice: Allow yourself as a couple to experience something separately as well. "If everyone can spend a day off, you're more balanced in the evening and have more to talk about."

Depending on your preferences, however, a holiday can sometimes include a challenge, says psychologist Blasche. If you like hiking in your free time, you might dare to tackle a demanding mountain tour. "Activities that confirm us and give us a sense of competence fill us with pride and satisfaction," says the Viennese professor. After physical exertion, you should always allow yourself enough rest periods so that you don't come back tired and exhausted from your vacation.

However, not everyone is able to travel to the sea or to the mountains, for example because they lack the time or money. However, psychologists agree: You can also find relaxation at home. "However, it takes a lot of self-discipline," says Horvatits-Ebner. Because often you let yourself be tempted to get work done. The basement is mucked out, the paperwork is sorted, and finally the ceiling light is installed. You should therefore consciously organize your everyday life differently and plan day trips, advises Gerhard Blasche.

If you manage to switch off during the days off, the good news is: recovery can start on the first day, as Blasche confirms. The effect is strongest in the first seven to ten days.

The bad news is that, like sleep, this recovery doesn't last long. According to the health psychologist, three weeks after the holiday at the latest, you are usually back at the same stress level as before. So instead of using up all vacation days at once, Blasche advises it's worth splitting them up over the year and allowing yourself several shorter vacation breaks.

Nevertheless, regular vacations also have long-term consequences: In terms of well-being, you create memories that can still evoke pleasant feelings years later. And with regard to health, studies even show a positive effect on lifespan. In addition, a trip can serve as inspiration to bring that holiday feeling into everyday life. Because even without a sea view, you can enjoy sunsets and visits to restaurants.

(This article was first published on Saturday, August 06, 2022.)

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