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V-A-C-A-T-I-O-N—Why We Need It

(September 2001)

Can you imagine giving your employer back two vacation days a year? It's hard to fathom but millions are doing it. According to a national survey, 18 percent of Americans say they are so overworked that they can't use up their vacation time. The trend is disturbing as it goes against all medical guidance telling us that we need regular breaks to reduce the stress and pressures we increasingly feel from work.

Vacation Deprivation

According to a survey commissioned by Expedia.com, Americans are giving more than $19.3 billion back to their employers in unused vacation time—which averages 1.8 days per year. The majority of those surveyed stated that they understand the need to use vacation time to relax and rejuvenate but are too busy to do so. The main reasons cited for not taking all vacation time were work, family, or monetary concerns.

Despite many workers leaving vacation days unused each year, the survey indicates that more than 71 percent wish their employer gave an additional week of paid vacation each year. Americans have far less vacation time than other countries—13 days a year on average, compared to 25 or more in Japan, Canada, Britain, Germany, and Italy. The majority of Americans surveyed didn't realize that U.S. workers receive significantly less vacation time than workers in other industrialized nations.

Health Reasons

A vacation health study conducted by the University of Pittsburgh and University of New York shows that skipping your vacations may be an unhealthy habit. The five-year study of 12,000 middle-aged men at high risk of heart disease found that participants who failed to take a single vacation over the five-year period of the study were more likely to develop coronary heart disease later on. The death risk from coronary heart disease also was higher.

While researchers admit that not all potential variables that might increase heart disease and death incidence were accounted for, they do believe that taking a vacation is a healthy habit.

Vacations Are Life Enhancing

Those who don't vacation will cite costs, flying, and just the overall effort of planning a vacation as reasons not to go. But given how hard we work these days, we need vacations more than ever for our emotional heath and well-being. So stop with the excuses. If you cannot take a full seven-day stretch, why not try a long weekend? After all, taking a small break now and then is better than not taking any at all.

Here is one New Years' resolution that's easier than losing those added holiday pounds: Take ALL your vacation days this new year! You deserve them.

Additional Information:

The American Psychosomatic Society: Read the full abstract of the study by the Department of Psychology (BBG), State University of New York, Oswego, NY, and the Department of Psychiatry (KAM), University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA, at Psychosomatic Medicine online.

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