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Vacation Depression: How to Cope

Psychologists explain how to avoid vacation depression, plus tips on creating a vacation that matches your personality.
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WebMD Feature

We love our vacations -- those great escapes from the humdrum and the hassles. But if you're depressed, the annual vacation may seem like yet another obstacle -- especially with soaring gas prices and an unstable economy. Vacation depression is a fact of life for many people.

You feel guilty spending the money -- and pushing yourself to plan the trip becomes a burden. Every flat tire, delayed flight, and tantrum (child or adult) is simply draining. When your vacation ends, there's the depressing return to the stresses of everyday life.

Vacation and Depression: What the Research Shows

And yet, the data is clear, “you're impacting both physical and mental health if you don't take vacation time," says John de Graaf, executive director of Take Back Your Time, an organization that is working with Capitol Hill to get guaranteed three-week vacation time for every working American.

Here's the research on vacation, depression, and heart disease:

  • One 2005 study from the Marshfield Clinic in Wisconsin found that women who don't take regular vacations were two to three times more likely to be depressed compared to women who take regular vacations.
  • Another study followed 12,338 men for nine years -- and found that men who didn't take annual vacations had 32% higher risk of death from heart attack and 21% higher risk of death from all causes.
  • One study analyzed surveys completed by women enrolled in the 20-year Framingham Heart Study. Researchers found an eight times higher risk of heart attack and death among women who rarely took vacations (every six years or less) -- compared to women who took at least one vacation every two to five years.

"Vacations are not trivial," says Frank Farley, PhD, a leading clinical psychologist, professor at Temple University in Philadelphia, and former president of the American Psychological Association. "In this workaholic America, we have to treat them as precious stuff ... keep alive the good feelings and relaxing times."

To help do that, WebMD talked with several psychologists who offer insights on vacation depression, why vacations help our mental health, plus tips on creating a rejuvenating break that fits your personality. You'll also find advice to offset post-vacation depression when the fun ends.

Why Vacations Help Depression

Here's the good news: Vacations give us a chance to recharge our batteries -- change the pace, alter the scenery, and improve our attitude.

"It's also a really important time for bonding with whoever is important in your life -- your partner, kids, friends, parents," says Nadine Kaslow, PhD, a clinical psychologist and professor at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta.

"Relationships are probably the most important thing that keeps people going, the reason for living for most people," Kaslow tells WebMD. "They nurture us and we nurture them by having fun together. So often in our normal workaday life we don't have time in the same way to devote to that."

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