Many of us have a real problem.
We have a real problem with slowing down, taking a rest, changing our pace. And you know what? It can be really bad for us.
Speaking specifically about the American workforce, consider these bleak statistics:
Although Americans have fewer vacation days than people in any other country, they have been taking fewer and fewer vacations over the past 15 years.
Fifty-five percent of Americans did not use all their vacation days in 2015.
Even when they actually do take a vacation, 41 percent are checking into work while away.
Eighty-four percent of U.S. executives have canceled vacations in order to work.1
Why do I call these bleak statistics? It’s because while we pride ourselves on industriousness and a stern work ethic, in the long run prioritizing work over rest is not good for the mind or body. And once we conscientiously apply a Christian viewpoint to the discussion and ask what Jesus would do, we’re very likely to hear Him say, “Come . . . rest a while” (Mark 6:31).
People forego taking earned vacation times for a variety of valid reasons—family logistics, cost, the nature of their work. . . . But a good number fail to take vacations because of fear. Their reasons include worrying over work piling up while away, fear of missing out on key things in the office, the concern that they will be judged negatively for taking time off, and fear that managers will view them as not essential to the organization in their absence.
But it’s so important that we strive for balance in our lives regardless of perceived negative outcomes, because it’s not just a luxury to take a vacation—it may actually save lives.
Here’s what happens when we fail to take time off or take vacations (and vacations don’t have to mean leaving home. [more on that later]).
Are you stressed? If we don’t take time off, that isn’t likely to improve. Too much stress in our lives can result in compromised immunity, chronic illness, fatigue, and worse. Going and going and going? It gets us nowhere.
Did you know that men who vacationed regularly were more than 32 percent less likely to die from a heart attack? For women, that figure increases dramatically to 50 percent.3 We can’t deny those facts!
In addition to keeping our bodies healthier, slowing down, traveling, and/or changing scenery and pace of life really improve focus, productivity, creativity, and sleep quality. They can even strengthen our relationships (a happy byproduct of not being tired, overworked, and, well, cranky).
Vacationing in Hawaii would make most of us happy. But if we’re being real, we know that taking a trip like that isn’t always accessible to many of us, and that’s OK. We don’t need to take expensive vacations to far-flung locations to unplug and do ourselves some good.
Have you ever heard of the term “staycation”? It’s a thing, and it really can work. With a child in college out-of-state, and another soon to follow, vacations are one of the easiest things to trim off my family’s personal budget right now. We love to travel, and have cherished memories of several international destinations. This present season of our lives is a good time to scale back on such things. But that doesn’t mean we have to scale back on taking time off.
This past spring break we stayed home. But we hit the pause button on our normal routine of work and school. And you know what? It felt awesome. One of the primary objectives of a week off was to catch up on sleep. And I did—I slept in until my body actually wanted to wake up (work schedules can really mess with normal circadian rhythms). Then I went to the gym, leisurely—without worrying about how much time I had or how fast I needed to shower, get dressed, and be on my way. At home I napped when I wanted to, treated myself to a couple of new paperbacks at Barnes and Noble, and enjoyed a pedicure. We even took a day trip to Philadelphia and ran up the steps of the city’s art museum à la Rocky Balboa (that was my son’s idea). When I returned to work the following week, I felt utterly rested and ready to be back.
Now, you can certainly enjoy the same benefits of relaxation on a beach or mountain chalet somewhere, but flights, traffic, jet lag, and other snafus that come with long-distance travel can easily sap you of any of the rest you just benefited from. So while those trips bring a lot of wonderful benefits to tired souls, don’t feel too bad if your current situation prohibits them at the moment. You can certainly recharge and reinvigorate yourself from the quiet of your own home. Just unplug from your job, OK? Try.
One of the things I as a Seventh-day Adventist am personally most grateful for is the Sabbath. And not just that it exists, but that we have a belief system that shows us how to live a life built around the blessing of it. Because it is exactly that—a blessing. In our harried lives of work, school, family and social responsibilities, etc., a mandate from God Himself to stop and catch our breath, even for just 24 hours? I’ll take it!
Now, I’m fully aware that for many, Sabbath can actually be one of the busiest days of the week. If you have any sort of involvement in your local church in one or more capacities, you know this to be true. So if that is your situation, I pray you can find a way to recharge and gain that blessing even as you try to prevent a classroom of toddlers from wandering off while you attempt to instill some Jesus in them.
We know the Sabbath’s benefits to the human soul are actually far greater than just a respite from clocking in at the office. It’s a day to rest and change pace, a day to seek God and have Him restore us, and a day to encourage others around us to come away for a while and calm down. Always remember that even if it may seem impossible to schedule a week away somewhere, we can always take our 24-hour Sabbath break and be comforted that it’s God’s idea—no manager’s approval necessary!
As said before, your vacation time doesn’t have to involve hiking Machu Picchu—but if it does, more power to you (and please send pictures)! But the overarching theme of this is a reminder that taking time off is really important for our spiritual, mental, and physical well-being. We can make the most of the life we live on this earth by balancing our hard work with hard-earned play. Plan ahead, be creative, and commit to it. After all, have you ever heard of someone coming back from vacation saying they wish they had stayed at work?
I didn’t think so.
Wilona Karimabadi is an assistant editor of Adventist Review.