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The Value of Mini-Vacations

Short breaks can be just as restorative as long ones.

Source: Pexels

Forty percent of working adults say the benefits they derive from their vacations—such as less stress and more energy—last only a few days after they return to work, according to a report just released by the American Psychological Association (APA). Almost a quarter of them say their holiday benefits evaporate instantly once they get back to their jobs.

This tendency for the health and well-being benefits of vacations to last only temporarily is called the vacation fade-out effect. Other research is generally consistent with the findings from the APA report in demonstrating that the value we derive from vacations can last as long as a month, or as little as one day, but on average tends to endure for only about two or three weeks.

This is a pretty sad state of affairs. We work all year eagerly anticipating a fantastic extended holiday that will put the swing back in our step, recharge our batteries, and help us feel rejuvenated. And sure enough, if they are planned and executed well, vacations do reinvigorate us, reduce our fatigue, and improve our mood. But only briefly.

So how can we enjoy the benefits we get from our vacations on a more permanent basis and avoid, or at least minimize those undesirable fade-out effects?

Source: MatanVizel/Pixabay

One solution is to enjoy monthly mini-vacations instead of a single annual vacation. Although there isn’t much research on the topic, there is evidence that short vacations that last just a few days can be as recuperative as longer getaways. For instance, a recent study of managers in Germany found that a short, four-night vacation increased the managers’ well-being and feelings of recovery, and decreased their strain and perceived stress. An important point for people taking short vacations with limited time for travel, these beneficial effects occurred regardless of whether the managers took a trip to a wellness hotel, or enjoyed a staycation at home. The results of this study have to be interpreted with caution because it lacked a control group, but they are consistent with the idea that mini-vacations can indeed foster recovery.

So, here’s an idea. Save up your vacation days and instead of venturing out on one long trip each year, treat yourself to regular long weekends. And structure those weekends so that they feel like recuperative vacations. I think the duration of your time off is often less important than the quality of your time off in helping you recover from the demands of work. A three-day camping trip that allows you to feel like you’ve escaped civilization can easily result in you feeling more rejuvenated than a two-week stay at a resort where you are constantly checking your phone.

If you take regular mini-vacations, you may find that by the time your vacation benefits have started fading out, it will be time for your next short break. By taking regular mini-vacations, you can enjoy the physical and psychological benefits of your holidays for months instead of a few days or weeks each year.

Most of us would like to have more energy and less stress in our lives. Vacations are beneficial in this regard, but the effects are short-lived. By thinking more strategically about how to use your vacation days you can counteract fade-out effects and allow the benefits of your vacations to stay with you all year.

More from Jamie Gruman Ph.D.
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