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How taking more holiday relieves stress

How Taking Holidays Relieves Stress

Today we have founder of the practice Brainbox Coaching and qualified coach, Dr Tracy Johnson, share her views on how taking holidays relieves stress.

“It’s not discussed as much as it should be, but there is a potentially high price to pay for making work the principal focus of our existence. While I love running my own health and fitness practice and helping others towards a confident, happy life, the irony was that it became almost impossible for me to practice what I preached while sustaining the level of delivery necessary to keep my company afloat. Disturbed sleep, annoying bouts of illness and a general feeling of burnout prevailed until, in my third year of being an entrepreneur, I finally made the decision to switch off and leave the country for a few days with zero work commitments. I couldn’t believe how rested I felt even after just a short break away from the demands of my clients, emails and social media, returning home fully resolved to build more time out into my week, as well as each year.”

“While the health issues above may seem relatively minor, over time they can become something much more cumulative and insidious. Latent stress can lead to coronary heart disease, heart attacks and depression when left unchecked, according to a slew of recent studies into the health benefits of taking holidays, so it is extremely important to take a step back, make a lifestyle assessment and take the steps necessary for both long term health and productivity in your career. Your business cannot be successful unless you are functioning at optimal health and it is important to set a good example to your team regarding taking time off.”

Health problems associated with infrequent holidays

“While not taking your holiday entitlement may seem like a small sacrifice over a few years of being busy, it’s not one worth making. The largest and longest running study of cardiovascular disease, the Framingham Heart Study, has revealed that men who didn’t take a holiday for several years were 30% more likely to have a heart attack compared to men who ensured they took time off. And it’s not just a male issue. Women who only took a holiday one year in every six were almost eight times more likely to develop coronary heart disease or experience a heart attack compared to those who took a couple of breaks each year.”

“Maintaining relatively high stress levels for a long period of time can also cause other problems. Our bodies are designed to release a hormone called cortisol to wake us up each morning. It should peak at this point then fall away throughout the day, enabling us to sleep. For many executives, stress is so high throughout their working hours that cortisol is constantly drip fed into the body from the adrenal glands. This can lead to disturbed and unsatisfying sleep, anxiety and depression, digestive problems, concentration issues and memory impairment and, finally, weight gain, as your body will hold onto its fat stores if cortisol levels are consistently high.”

“If you constantly feel below par but are never actually ‘ill’, it’s probably a consequence of asking your body to perform at too high a level of stress for too long. Your body and mind need time out to function optimally and for you to be able to do your job to the best of your ability and in good health. In addition to taking your holiday entitlement, you need to maintain regular sleep patterns and build time out into your day to decrease your stress hormones. This can be done by exercising or engaging in any activity in which you can really lose yourself (known as a ‘flow state’ by psychologists) and is a healthy necessity, not an option.”

Health Problems Associated With Infrequent Holidays
Health Problems Associated With Infrequent Holidays
Health Benefits Associated With Regular Breaks
Health Benefits Associated With Regular Breaks

Health benefits associated with regular breaks

“According to an internal study undertaken by Ernst and Young (and reported by Health Net Inc), for every additional 10 hours of holiday time taken, year-end performance ratings improved by 8%, there were decreased instances of depression, less stress overall and improved productivity. Those who took frequent holidays were also less likely to want to leave the firm. This is also backed up by a study by the Boston Consulting Group, which reported that high level professionals who were required to take time off were significantly more productive overall than those who spent more time working. The benefits for yourself and for your team of taking holidays are obvious.”

“There are also other gains to be made. For executives and entrepreneurs, long hours mean that working life bleeds over into private time. Taking a holiday helps maintain boundaries and enables us to cultivate family and friendship bonds that can deteriorate when work becomes the primary driver. You will also recover your quality of sleep without the pressure of early morning alarm calls and the disturbance caused by working with backlit digital devices late into the night.”

Active relaxation can be just as healthy as total rest
Active relaxation can be just as healthy as total rest
How To Make This Happen
How To Make This Happen

How to make this happen

“First, make sure that you take your vacation entitlement and are seen to be doing it. This sets a good and healthy example to your team which will also need to be productive to support you. Plan ahead for the quieter times of your year so that you don’t feel guilty for taking the time out or are concerned the whole time you are away that your team won’t cope. Ensure you have a framework in place so everyone knows what to do in your absence for a range of scenarios. Decide if you want to be contactable in certain emergency circumstances or if you feel confident delegating to a trusted deputy so that you can really take your hands off the reins.”

“Second, make sure you take the right holiday for you. I am terrible at being inactive and a beach holiday with nothing to do but sit around all day wouldn’t be that relaxing for me. Do you like the idea of a complete retreat, or do you want something more structured? Active relaxation can be just as healthy as total rest, but it’s a personal choice.”

“Finally, try to build ‘mini vacations’ into your working life. Taking occasional long weekends to recharge is a good idea, as is building time into your day to escape to a gym class, for a walk or whatever you like, to reinvigorate you and bring you back to work feeling more productive. And while rich dinners out with clients can be a regular feature of corporate life, try to offset the worst of it by staying active and eating fresh, unprocessed foods when you can. You’ll then feel well enough to enjoy your vacation when you get to take it, and avoid the common slump into illness that many people experience during a holiday when they have gone too hard for too long.”

“Prioritising your health by taking your holiday time has to be something you plan and organise for as much as you would with any other aspect of your work. Make it non-negotiable and book it in advance. Decide what will happen in your absence and get everyone briefed. Then make sure everyone else is encouraged to plan their holidays, too. The long term benefits to a healthy, happy and productive workforce will be well worth the effort.”

“In case you were thinking of skipping your holiday this year, think again. If you’ve been feeling particularly stressed over the last year, close your eyes and book that much needed holiday which will see you returning to work in better spirits and ready to take 2017 by storm. The team at Air Charter Service, can arrange a private jet charter for you even if it’s needed at rather short notice, so there are no excuses.”

Dr Tracy Johnson


Dr Tracy Johnson is the founder of health and wellness practice, Brainbox Coaching, and is based in Bristol, UK. Tracy holds qualifications in many areas including coaching, nutrition, yoga teaching, personal training and fitness, and works both 1:1 and online with a wide variety of clients. She is also the author of Working in Science (Trotman Education) and has published widely on all aspects of her work in international magazines and websites. Tracy is currently filming a factual entertainment series with Troy TV UK called Be Fit Bristol Fit, which will be broadcast throughout 2017, and is shortly to launch an online personal training service.


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