Get Outta Here! Vacations Are a Serious Matter
In fact, what psychologists call rumination -- those circulating, stressful thoughts -- "can extend the effects of stress. Ruminating while you're running defeats the health benefits of the exercise," says Gump.
"Studies looking at acute stress reaction show that people who are under a lot of 'background stress' -- constant stress -- react more to the acute stressors that happen every day," he tells WebMD. "They would be at higher risk for [heart] disease. We also know that background stress causes poorer health behaviors, too. They're eating more fatty foods, drinking more, have higher cholesterol levels, smoke more."
A vacation can give a stressed-out worker some sense of mastery over his universe -- and that in itself brings relief, says one psychologist.
"A lot of stressful things in the work environment are chronic, and mostly people don't have control over them," says Steve Jex, PhD, author of Stress and Job Performance. "If you have a boss you don't like, there's nothing you can do about it. The only way to get relief is to get away. Get out of that environment for awhile. That may be the best thing for you." Jex is also an associate professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh.
And at least one cardiologist is adding "take a vacation" to his advice to patients. Stress reduction -- in whatever form it takes -- significantly reduces risk of heart disease and death in those individuals who are at risk, says Laurence Sperling, MD, medical director of preventive cardiology at the Emory Clinic in Atlanta. Sperling reviewed the study for WebMD.
"There's a growing body of literature that is confirming that stress ... definitely affects the risk of heart disease and death from heart disease," Sperling tells WebMD. "For some individuals, stress is on par with other major risk factors like high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes. Stress can clearly be a major risk factor."
But what creates the most "heart-healthy" vacation? "Is it better to go on a trout-fishing vacation vs. going to the Grand Canyon? Should you take the kids along or not? There's no information in this study," says Sperling, who regularly takes "mini-vacations." They help, too, he says.
And taking a daily "mental vacation" also counts, Sperling adds: "Exercise is good for stress relief, so is meditation, but really what works is any activity that diverts you from usual rigors of life. Individuals have to define for themselves what that is, whether it's playing the piano, going for a walk by yourself, listening to Beethoven or soft music -- what things are cathartic for them, what gets them out of their usual mindset."