Why Holidays Are Good For The Brain

Holidays are not just a treat we give ourself, they are an important part of our life. It all starts with a change in our mindset. Just starting to plan for our vacation can improve our state of mind. A mental lift or an improved mood begins to kick in immediately. The restoration process that goes on when we take a vacation can reverse the detrimental effects of working too much. When we are under constant stress, it can lead to a spike in our stress hormones and affect our health adversely. Depending on our constitution, it can translate to more headaches, colds and falling sick more often.

Neurological benefits of holidays

There are a number of neurological benefits to winding down. For one, it lowers our stress hormones or cortisol. We need to rest and refresh properly to decrease the chances of mental burnout. Research has shown that re-connecting with what we enjoy and getting the proper nutrition, sleep and exercise can optimize the dopamine and serotonin levels in our body. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that plays a key role in maintaining the mood balance and making us feel good. Dopamine is the key chemical in the reward center of our brain. It influences the plans we make based on the expected reward. In a revealing study, participants were asked to rate a list of 80 holiday destinations. They were then administered L-Dopa, which increases the dopamine concentration in the brain. The researchers found that the boost in dopamine gave the participants higher expectations when rating the holiday options.

Take a step back

If we detach from a familiar environment, it can give us a new perspective on our everyday life. We have all been in situations when the advice we get from our friends sounds more creative than what we have decided for ourself. That is because of the psychological distance our friend has from the situation at hand. When we are in the midst of a problem, we tend to get tunnel vision and cannot disentangle ourself from it well enough to think about it clearly.

Similarly, a lot of people have life changing epiphanies when they are traveling as they are able to view their daily life from a more detached perspective. Taking time off work alone wouldn’t do. We need to break routines, get out of our daily habits. We need to get away from where we actually live as that is the only way to get any perspective.

Boost your creativity

Visiting an unfamiliar place with a completely different culture can help us with creative thinking. That is because we tend to think that there is just one way of doing things, only to find out that there is a completely different set of social customs and norms in a strange land. Experiences like that give us a more nuanced understanding of ourself and we get a better sense of who we are. If we want to make the most of vacationing abroad, we should try and understand the world through the perspective of the locals.

Increase your mindfulness

The Buddhists have a meditation technique that is referred to as mindfulness meditation. It involves being present and observant in a completely non-judgmental way. When we are mindful, we notice new things both in ourself and the world around us. People expect to see new things when they are on vacation and that makes their trips exciting. It even throws a new light on the mundane everyday activities and objects. If we can find a way to bring back some of the experience to our workday life, the rewards will be manifold.

So, the next time you decide to skip on your annual holidays for a few days of extra pay, stop for a moment and think about whether you are in the right frame of mind while making the decision. You will find that the answer is almost always no.