I know, you're busy and you have work to do, but you also need to take some time off to recharge those batteries. So, should you plan one big holiday for the year? Or should you sparse out your days for multiple holidays throughout? Quantity can sometimes beat quality.
Photo by Bureau of Land Management.
First and foremost, regardless of how you use your leave days, you need to be using them - and soon. The longer you put off your time off, the worse you're making things for yourself. Not only are you at risk for burnout, one nine-year long study, published in Psychosomatic Medicine, suggests not taking at least one holiday a year may increase your risk of mortality due to cardiovascular disease. So, not only are you killing your joy, you're possibly killing yourself. Give yourself a break, people.
When you should take those breaks, however, depends on a few factors. How many days you have available to use, what activities bring you joy, whether you have a family or not, and other variables come into play. Because of that, there's no perfect formula that works for everyone - sorry. But there are still a few things everyone can try to shoot for! We know that in terms of maximising relaxation, you should aim for holidays that range somewhere between seven and 11 days long. That gives you enough time to let go of your stress at work, completely loosen up, and achieve full-on calm.
Sometimes a quick holiday is better than nothing, but if you can swing it, try for at least eight days. Research suggests you need at least that much time to truly unwind and feel refreshed.
That same study, published in the Journal of Happiness Studies, also recommends you space out your holidays evenly instead of using up all of your days at once. Now, eight days might sound like a lot if you don't have that much leave, but if you frame your days off with weekends, you can manage two evenly spaced, eight-day holidays a year. If you have 14 days of paid time off, that's almost three separate eight-day holidays you can use to split your year into thirds. As tempting as it might be to use all your days to take one long break, your overall goal should be to achieve the perfect balance between quality (length plus joy) and quantity (frequency).
Holiday frequency is also important because planning multiple breaks throughout the year means you always have something to look forward to. Planning things, and the anticipation that comes with that, tends to make us happier. If you only take one long holiday every year, the excitement builds much more slowly and seems so far off it can actually lead to feelings of despair. Also, some studies (such as this one, and this one) suggest that pre-holiday stress may be higher in the case of long holidays - since they often require more preparation. Spontaneous holidays or leisure activities can often be more rewarding than trips you meticulously plan out as well, since it's all play and no work.
'Ahh, this is it.' It's the sigh we all want to sigh on holiday. Full relaxation, total enjoyment, that pure feeling of doing nothing. But it may turn out that pursuing a holiday ideal - whether it's a perfect sunset, pre-planned trip, or just the expected awe of seeing, say, Uluru in real life - is exactly how not to get the most out of the holiday time you have.
The best thing you can do for yourself, researchers suggest, is look at time off from work as a necessary component of a healthy lifestyle:
Asking why we should keep going on vacations is therefore comparable to asking why we should go to sleep considering the fact that we get tired again. A period of effort investment at work should necessarily be alternated with periods of recovery in order to remain healthy in the long run. Therefore, instead of skipping vacations or taking only one long vacation in years, it seems much more reasonable to schedule several shorter vacations across a work year in order to maintain high levels of H&W [happiness and well-being].
The best time to plan a holiday is when you think you'll need it the most. As you plan out your year, ask yourself, "Where will time off be the most valuable to me?" It may not be in the middle of summertime when everyone else travels, but in the spring, after a stressful winter. Or maybe you think you'll need a recharge at the end of summer before a busy autumn. When will you need stress relief the most? Determine those times first, then try to space out a few quality holidays throughout the year. You'll be much happier if you do.