By Heather Mullinix
I'm back at work on Monday morning, scrambling to write my weekly column before deadline. I usually try to get these written the week before so that I don't set myself up for a Monday morning meltdown.
But that didn't happen this week. I took a few days off, with grand plans of home organization, crafting and rest. Writing my column wasn't on my agenda until this morning. Now, as I sit here staring at a stack of obituaries to be typed and a boatload of email to sort through, as well as catching up on correspondence I missed last week, I'm thinking I need another vacation if for no other reason than to delay doing all this work that was waiting for me.
I don't feel particularly refreshed or revitalized after my time away. I probably over-scheduled my time off. It's so easy to plan to do 200 things during a vacation or staycation that you never actually get around to the rest and relaxation part of things. Add to that the fact many people continue to do work-related tasks while they're on vacation and it's easy to see why stress is such a significant health factor in our lives.
It's not just me. It's the entire county that's not taking time to rest and rejuvenate from the wear and tear of the daily grind. The typical worker in the United States gets two or three weeks of vacation each year. And even then, only a smidgen over half of U.S. workers actually use all their allotted vacation days, with CNN reporting only 57 percent will use all their time. That compares to 89 percent of workers in France using all their vacation time.
But compare the U.S. to Germany, where the average worker has six weeks of vacation time, and national holidays. The law there, as in many other nations, requires employers to offer four or more weeks of paid vacation to workers. Finland, Brazil and France guarantee six weeks each year.
Six weeks? Wow. I could get a lot of projects finished. Or, I could finally take that cross-country road trip I dreamed of in college. Or I could just lay about the house and take short trips here and there, visiting friends and family across the southeast.
But I wouldn't. I, like many of my workaholic, pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps American co-workers (and all the other Type A personalities out there) can't imagine being away from our homes away from home that much during a year, and never more than a week at a time. I sometimes joke that I thrive on stress and deadlines. And I do, to a point.
But that stress that builds up eats away at us, lowering resistance to illness and increasing stress on our arteries and heart. Psychology Today tells us that chronic stress, either on the job or in personal lives, affects sleep, good digestion, even altering the genetic material of our cells. It leads to depression and feelings of anxiousness and makes Heather an irritable person and it affects memory. I must be stressed out because I've gotten up from my desk three times to go get something and, halfway through my task, forgotten what I was doing. I don't know if it's due to stress or if I'm just getting distracted by something shiny and sparkling.
Vacations are vital in breaking that stress cycle and helping workers recharge their batteries, refill their gas tanks and get ready to keep on moving. Also helpful are hobbies and leisure pursuits. I have a bevy of hobbies, and I try to keep that in perspective so that my hobbies don't become just another source of stress in my life. But vacations, that downtime away from the hustle and bustle are trouble for me.
Think of the Griswold family vacation in National Lampoon's Vacation. Poor Clark just wanted to have the perfect road trip to take his wife and kids to Walley World theme park. From a last minute car switch, lost luggage, getting lost, and even the death of dear Aunt Edna, the road trip is one disaster after another, capped by arriving to find the theme park is closed for repairs.
Sound familiar? I've had a few vacations where the stress of getting somewhere almost made the whole trip a bust, but a little rearranging, being flexible and having faith it would all work out in the end led to some wonderful memories. And that helped me be a better worker when I returned to the office.
The next time you've got some days off, maximize that time to do things that you enjoy. Rest and recharge your mind and you'll be ready to take the world by storm when that inevitable Monday morning return rolls around.
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Heather Mullinix is assistant editor of the Crossville Chronicle. Her column is published on Tuesdays. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.