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4 Tips for a Less Stressful Vacation

Experts explain ways to leave stress behind when you take off for that much needed holiday.

Vacation Buster No. 3: Work Woes

According to a 2006 survey, one in four workers plan to work while on vacation. At the same time, a 2006 poll shows 23% of people have checked work email or voicemail while on vacation.

John Weaver, PsyD, a psychologist and owner of Psychology for Business, says many workers feel pressured to get more done without having enough time to do it all. As a result, a lot of people give up vacation time and ultimately surrender the days to employers.

If people do use vacation time, they end up taking laptops, PDAs, cell phones, and other work items with them on the trip. The survey found 16% of workers feel guilty about missing work while on vacation, and 7% fear the days off could lead to unemployment.

The constant expectation to work has had a negative effect on the workforce, contributing to high rates of depression and anxiety.

"The most expensive cost for business today is depression," says Weaver, referring to the 1999 U.S. Surgeon General's Report on Mental Health, which places the indirect costs of untreated mental health disorders at $79 billion per year. The high cost of depression, he says, is 70% more than the cost of the next highest health care cost, which is diabetes.

With all the alarming statistics, it's easy to lose hope. To ease the situation, Weaver makes these suggestions:

  • Have an ongoing dialogue with your employer. Discuss how important it is for you to have dedicated time for work, and dedicated time off to rejuvenate. Such conversations can happen informally, in employee review sessions, or in town hall meetings.
  • Set boundaries while on vacation. If you have to take work with you, limit the amount of time you are online, on call, or laboring to one to two hours per day. Do not let work creep into every aspect of your leisure time.
  • Review your job. If you've tried to improve your work-vacation situation and things still don't change, it may be time to consider how much you want to stick with your current employer, job, or industry. Ask yourself whether your situation is worth the risk of burnout.

Vacation Buster No. 4: Traveling With Children

A family vacation with kids can be a wonderful thing, creating memories that can be cherished for a lifetime. Yet the extra effort involved -- including planning activities for them, packing their stuff, getting them dressed, fed, and out -- can tire even the best of parents.

To alleviate the stress and strain of traveling with children, experts have some recommendations:

  • Involve the whole family in the vacation-planning process. If the discussion is conducted with respect for the needs of all family members, everyone can learn negotiation skills, and produce a getaway that may not necessarily be ideal for all, but can work for each member. For a family vacation, try to balance days when the whole gang participates in a shared activity with days when the individual members pursue their own desired activities. This may mean that Mom and Dad may have a night out -- just the two of them -- and the children are with a babysitter or at a supervised event. Or, it may mean the kids have a day when they just stay inside the hotel room, eat pizza, and watch TV. Everyone -- the parents and kids - would do better emotionally if they are given time to fulfill their own needs, says William Coleman, MD, professor of pediatrics at the Center for Development and Learning at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
  • Be flexible. Even the best-laid plans go awry, so just learn to roll with the punches. "Things come up that you can't account for," says Cheryl Hausman, MD, medical director of the primary care center at University City, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. "It's a wonderful learning experience for kids to see how their parents manage vacation and unexpected happenings."
  • Value unscheduled time. It's OK if you and your kids do not see all of the important sights in the city, or get on all of the rides at the amusement park. "The purpose of a vacation is to let the day unwind in front of you and enjoy the people that you're with, rather than checking things off a list," says Debbie Then, PhD, a social psychologist working in California. "At the end of the day, the kids will not remember all the museums that they went to, but they're going to remember interacting with Mom and Dad."
  • Don't go with the kids. Let's face it. Traveling with the kids does take extra effort. Sometimes the parents need time alone in order to truly unwind. "A lot of people think that they're being neglectful as parents if they don't take the children along with them," says Then, also author of Women Who Stay With Men Who Stray. "But, it's very important as a couple to get away alone, even if it's just for one or two days." This is the time for couples to focus on what they like about each other. The parents' love and time for each other can help build a strong foundation for the family.
Reviewed on August 25, 2008

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