“Self-care means giving yourself permission to pause.” ~ Dr. Cecilia Tran
We Americans are notorious for working long hours with too few lazy days off. In fact, CEPR (The Center for Economic and Policy Research) named America the “No-Vacation Nation” in a 2019 report.
A recent survey found that since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, most U.S. employees have canceled or shortened their vacation time. What’s more, 26% of those surveyed reported never having taken a two-week vacation.
However, not taking crucial, restful days off takes its toll on both our mental and physical health. Time off from work is known to increase productivity while at work and is integral to our sense of wellbeing and mental health.
This study is the first-ever worldwide analysis of the impact that long working hours have on loss of life and health. The report demonstrated that:
- 398,000 people died from a stroke and 347,000 people from heart disease as a causal effect of working at least 55 hours a week.
- Between 2000 and 2016, heart disease deaths increased by 42% and stroke deaths by 19%.
These figures are a marked increase compared to those working 30-40 hours per week. Those who work more are at a 35% higher risk of stroke and a 17% higher risk of dying from heart disease.
These particular health conditions are linked to long work hours as they are frequently caused, at least in part, by chronic stress.
The Link Between Stress, Heart Disease, and Stroke
There is an undeniable connection among chronic stress, stroke, and heart disease. When stressed, our Fight or Flight response is triggered, and large amounts of the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol flood the body. Although this is a vital survival mechanism in response to danger or threat, long-term activation of these hormones causes debilitating psychological and physiological disorders.
Stress causes the heart to work harder and beat faster, which increases blood pressure and boosts the levels of sugar and fat in the bloodstream. These factors raise the risk of blood clots that may cause a heart attack or stroke if the clots travel to the heart or brain.
These types of stress-related complications are also referred to as Metabolic Syndrome, which occurs when a cluster of medical complications–including hypertension, high blood sugar, elevated cholesterol, cardiovascular problems, and excess abdominal fat–increase the risks of heart disease, Type 2 Diabetes, and stroke.
The Health Benefits of Lazy Days
There are numerous health benefits from a lazy day on the sofa, a picnic in the park, or a trip to the beach. We realize that our mental health improves, we sleep better, have more energy to exercise and connect with loved ones, and return to work more productive and balanced.
And yet, we seem to shy away from taking days off. As a nation of workaholics, our focus is to instead worry about how our time off may affect our careers. Perhaps we are concerned about missing out on a promotion or burdening our colleagues with additional work. However, if time off has such a profound effect on our mental and physical health, we must start to view these days as a necessity and not a luxury.
Myriad studies have found that taking time off, away from routine and responsibilities, not only reduces stress but also alleviates anxiety and depression. This is two-fold as not only are you removing yourself from situations or environments that may cause stress or anxiety, but you are also permitting yourself “free time” to relax and rejuvenate.
This decrease in routine and obligation while on vacation increases energy and mindfulness. Even if our lazy days are spent curled up with a good book instead of getting out and about, the change from our usual routine is vital.
A 2019 study found that taking time off had comparable positive outcomes to meditation, which is known to reduce stress profoundly when practiced regularly. The participants reported similar effects from meditation and vacation, including a higher sense of wellbeing, mindfulness of observing sensations, clearly experiencing thoughts and emotions, and non-reacting to feelings or events that have the potential to be negative or jarring.”
Take that day off to relax, or book that long-awaited vacation. Your mind and body will thank you for it.
 “No-Vacation Nation, Revised”. CEPR, 2021, https://cepr.net/report/no-vacation-nation-revised/?__cf_chl_jschl_tk__=pmd_3yMeXGLLlii3bPNJdutJwZ6kvZPPWIRHytz8M3soBp8-1633351680-0-gqNtZGzNAjujcnBszQgR. Accessed 4 Oct 2021.
 “How Americans Plan to Vacation During Covid-19 – IPX1031”. IPX1031, 2021, https://www.ipx1031.com/vacation-during-covid/.
 “Long Working Hours Increasing Deaths from Heart Disease and Stroke: WHO, ILO”. Who.Int, 2021, https://www.who.int/news/item/17-05-2021-long-working-hours-increasing-deaths-from-heart-disease-and-stroke-who-ilo.
 Tawakol, Ahmed et al. “Relation Between Resting Amygdalar Activity and Cardiovascular Events: A Longitudinal and Cohort Study”. The Lancet, vol 389, no. 10071, 2017, pp. 834-845. Elsevier BV, doi:10.1016/s0140-6736(16)31714-7. Accessed 4 Oct 2021.
 Gump, Brooks B., and Karen A. Matthews. “Are Vacations Good for Your Health? The 9-Year Mortality Experience after the Multiple Risk Factor Intervention Trial”. Psychosomatic Medicine, vol 62, no. 5, 2000, pp. 608-612. Ovid Technologies (Wolters Kluwer Health), doi:10.1097/00006842-200009000-00003. Accessed 4 Oct 2021.
 “Take a Vacation for Your Heart’S Sake – Be Well SHBP”. Be Well SHBP, 2021, https://bewellshbp.com/heart-health/take-a-vacation-for-your-hearts-sake/.
 Joudrey, A. D., & Wallace, J. E. (2009). Leisure as a coping resource: A test of the job demand-control-support model. Human Relations, 62 (2), 195-217.
 May, Christopher J. et al. “The Relative Impact of 15-Minutes of Meditation Compared to a Day of Vacation in Daily Life: An Exploratory Analysis”. The Journal of Positive Psychology, vol 15, no. 2, 2019, pp. 278-284. Informa UK Limited, doi:10.1080/17439760.2019.1610480. Accessed 4 Oct 2021.