Give It A Rest!

Are you one of those people who find yourself carrying over vacation days from one year to the next? Do you find it difficult to tear yourself away from work for more than a long weekend? If you go to the beach, do you have to bring your laptop? Does your thumb perpetually hurt from using your BlackBerry?

These are all symptoms exhibited by workaholics, and new research shows that the constant stress of a job can harm more than just your home life (and your thumb, for the BlackBerry-addicted).

Dr. Mallika Marshall was on The Saturday Early Show to explain why a little "R & R" is not only good for your peace of mind, but for your overall health as well.

Don't skimp on time away from your daily grind, she says, because vacations are actually good for your health.

"Let's take stress, for example. People with chronic stress tend to produce more fight and flight hormones in their body, like cortisol and epinephrine, which can raise your blood pressure and put extra strain on your heart," Dr. Marshall explained. "It also puts you at higher risk for obesity, depression, stomach upset, and infections like the common cold due to a weakened immune system."

The best way to handle the excessive stress, she says, is to "take a break from your stressful situation … break the unhealthy cycle, so to speak. And several studies have suggested over the years that people who take vacations on a regular basis have lower rates of stress and therefore are at lower risk for some of these health problems. They also tend to report being happier in their marriages."

For the workaholic, just the idea of taking a break "can be daunting," says Marshall, and "these people may actually suffer from something called 'leisure sickness,' where they actually develop headaches, fatigue, muscle pains, and stomach upset during weekends and on vacation."

"Interestingly, one of the number one causes of deaths on vacation is heart attack," Dr. Marshall said, "usually in the first couple of days on vacation. They tend to be people who work long hours, who were eager for a vacation. The risk is very, very small. I'm not telling people they're going to die if they take a vacation! But there are negative health effects as well."

According to Dr. Marshall, there are some planning steps the vacation averse can take to make their transition easier.

  • Plan ahead: "Vacations can be very stressful if you don't. Make sure you book reservations in advance for lodging, flights and certain activities so that you don't get yourself all worked up trying to find some place to stay or something to do at the last minute."
  • Pack lightly: "The more stuff you take on vacation, the more hassle it will be to cart it from place to place."
  • Don't over-schedule: "Remember, you're on vacation. You don't need to treat your time off as though you're still at work and schedule every last, waking moment. Work in some downtime just to relax, and sprinkle your vacation with interesting activities that will make you vacation fun and memorable … but not exhausting."
  • Be flexible: "Chances are, something's going to go wrong at some point during your vacation … so anticipate it and be flexible in your planning. And try to find humor in the little stumbling blocks along the way."
  • Leave time to decompress: "If you only have a week off, leave a day or two on the back end to get back home, unwind from your trip, do some laundry, pay some bills, and get prepared to return to work."

    According to researchers, says Marshall, "Studies have found that people's stress returned to pre-vacation levels within three weeks of their return, but that even having a short, stress-free period in-between can have positive physical effects."

    Even if you can't take long breaks, "just periodically winding down and recuperating from stress can be beneficial," advises Marshall. "And the more often you take vacations, the less likely you are to feel stressed overall."