Is a long vacation the key to less stress? Maybe not, says Angela Buttimer, LPC, a facilitator at Cancer Wellness at Piedmont. The good news is short breaks throughout your day may have a bigger health benefit than extended vacations.
Studies show the body’s immune system responds well to mental and physical downtime, but most people are not getting enough of it.
“People today are very good at driving themselves into the ground in hopes of recuperating during vacation,” says Buttimer. “But that’s too little, too late. Plus, for many, vacations aren’t truly vacations. Our active family lifestyles mean we’re typically on the go no matter where we are. Many complain they need a vacation when they return from one.”
That's not to say you shouldn't enjoy a week at the beach with loved ones, but you should also make time each day for stress-relieving activities for the most health benefits.
Why you need a break
Today, society is over-extended and over-stimulated. In fact, the number one reason for doctor visits is high blood pressure. Chronic stress leads to muscle tension and an increase in the body's production of cortisol. Cortisol is released in response to stress, and over time, too much of it can lead to disease.
Buttimer points out that humans are not wired to multitask, yet we have built a world that depends on it. Research shows that when the brain is engaged in one activity and is interrupted, it can take up to 20 minutes for the brain and nervous system to recover from that interruption and refocus.
The value of mini breaks
Buttimer recommends mini breaks in addition to restorative practices like yoga, meditation, tai chi and massage. Even two to three minutes of deep breathing and stepping outside for fresh air may lead to a calmer, more centered and restored disposition. In fact, these mini-breaks can be so rejuvenating, they can prompt longer stretches of energy throughout the day.
“It was not that long ago that humans were forgers and hunters,” says Buttimer. “Our world has experienced a quick advancement in technology, yet our bodies have not caught up. It’s as if our brains function on ‘rev’ mode all the time and we don’t know how to decelerate and come all the way down.”
Buttimer stresses the importance of “adult play,” which is unstructured time that allows for a mental, emotional and physical pause from personal, family, and work life. This break should be a part of everyone’s daily routine, she says.
“We cannot afford to put personal time on the back-burner. It is paramount to our well-being," says Buttimer. “Just because everyone else is going full-throttle, doesn’t mean you should too. This pace will eventually catch up to you and your health.”
Learn more ways to reduce stress and improve your well-being.