Have you ever found that your summer vacation didn’t quite live up to the expectations you began entertaining months earlier? Did you dream of having time for relaxation, enjoying a break from everyday responsibilities, and instead find that your work life tailed you on your travels, uninvited? Or was it?
Vacations may be more difficult than we think and one of the biggest challenges to taking a break from the normal routine, according to a New York Times article by Matt Richtel, “Attached to Technology and Paying a Price,” is that we are hooked on technology. We let emails, texts, phone calls and other sensory inputs tag along with us on vacation, because they are addictive and we find them stimulating. Richtel says, “These play to a primitive impulse to respond to immediate opportunities and threats. The stimulation provokes excitement — a dopamine squirt — that researchers say can be addictive. In its absence, people feel bored.”
Despite the challenges involved in taking a real break, we need the vacations — at least two weeks of them a year — to resuscitate the brain and heart, says Hara Estroff Marano in Psychology Today. Americans work one hundred hours more per year than the Japanese and three months longer than Europeans. Some of us pride ourselves on shortening our vacations to one long four-day-weekend a year, overlooking the fact that vacations are essential for mental and physical health.
To mediate the conflict between the instant stimulation provided by technology and the need your body has to rejuvenate, psychotherapist Diane Barth, also writing in Psychology Today,” recommends that vacationers “regulate the level of your stimulation.” How to do this? In the case of one man who had trouble escaping, she suggested he “start out with his gadgets and, as he relaxes (which for most of us takes a few days to happen) and finds other things to interest him, he’ll gradually put them away.”
Why not give up the gadgets “cold turkey,” leave them at home and guarantee you have enough time to relax? After all, the root of “vacation” is vacare, which means “be unoccupied.”