Vacation is defined as a period spent away from home or business in travel or recreation. It is sometimes a period during which any activity, such as court or school, is suspended or there is a period of exemption from work for an employee. Often a vacation is defined as a leisure or respite period, in which a person can remove themself from their everyday life to relax.
The concept of taking a vacation, especially in the sense of traveling for leisure, has only more recently become popular, or accessible for anyone other than the richest classes. Beyond the inherent wealth and luxury required to travel for recreation throughout most of human history, in the United States, the Puritan culture frowned upon the idea of taking a break for anything other than observing the Sabbath. However, much of the modern concept of a vacation is inherited through the encouragement of spiritual retreat. The notion of taking a break from work then took root among the middle and working classes.
The first use of vacation comes from the late fourteenth century, when it was used to refer to freedom from obligations, leisure, or release, and was from the Old French vacacion, which was for a vacancy or vacant position. The Old French came from the Latin vacationem or vacatio, which meant leisure, freedom, exemption, being free from duty, and immunity earned by service. In English, the earliest uses of vacation come from the early fifteenth century, when it meant a formal suspension of activity or an intermission of usual employment.
Vacation is the United States's equivalent of what in Britain is called a holiday, from around 1878. In the United Kingdom and Australia, people will use "holiday" to describe the act of going away for a period of leisure and is a synonym for vacation, which is used predominantly in the United States and Canada. However, in the United Kingdom, a holiday also refers to a scheduled event when work is closed on the calendar, while it can also mean the same as a vacation. The difference comes in the way it is used in a sentence.
Various studies have been done on the benefits of vacation. These have found that taking a vacation offers a person both physical and mental health benefits by lowering stress, reducing the risk of heart disease, and offering a better outlook on life.
Stress is a physiological response originally meant to keep humans safe from danger, but in modern society, chronic stress and the constant release of hormones such as cortisol and epinephrine are destructive to mental and physical health. However, studies have shown that vacations, especially regular vacations, and removing oneself from everyday stresses, reduce the high levels of these hormones and give the body a chance to repair some of the damage.
Stress is one of the major contributors to heart disease and high blood pressure. Long-term studies have found that vacations are capable of reducing the risk of heart disease and heart attack, with men who vacationed regularly more than 32 percent less likely to die from heart attack and women who vacation regularly 50 percent less likely to die from a heart attack.
With chronic exposure to stress, neuroscience has found that hormones can alter an individual's brain structure and increase the anxiety and depression the individual experiences. A vacation, as it offers a stress release, can increase an individual's feelings of calm and allow the body and mind to heal in ways it would not be able to if they were still under pressure.
Many studies have found that people who make vacationing a regular part of their lives score better on health and well-being indexes than those who travel less frequently. In one such study, subjects found that three days after vacation, their physical complaints, quality of sleep, and mood had improved, compared with before they took the vacation. These gains were considered to still be present five weeks later, especially in those who had more personal time and rated more overall satisfaction during their vacation.
As part of stress, individuals who do not take vacations and continue to work often begin to feel rundown and will begin to experience fatigue and trouble concentrating. When the feelings of burnout build, an individual will find a simple task challenging, and an individual will lose their drive and passion. However, studies have shown that as vacations reduce stress, they have further positive effects on the feelings of burnout. The reduction from the strain is better for those who vacation away from home, but the effects were similar even for those who stayed home.
While a career is important, the relationships a person has in their life are of equal if not greater importance. However, during the usual week and work schedule, an individual can spend increasing hours checking their phone or email and leave the important people in their life feeling neglected or less important. Even a short vacation with those people can help an individual unplug from work, spend quality time with them, and help them refocus their energy on the people who are important to them.
A vacation can help make an individual feel more present and stimulated. This is in part because a vacation helps break a normal routine, meaning the individual is no longer capable of operating on autopilot. This can feel, for some, like a waking up and allow the individual to really pay attention to their surroundings. Vacation and meditation have appeared in many of these reports and studies to have overlapping effects, with subjects going through meditation exercises or vacationing associated with higher levels of well-being and increased mindfulness.
Vacations, and taking time off overall, have been found to improve the capacity to learn. This has been further evidenced through neuroscience, in which PET scans and MRIs have shown that the "aha" moment comes when the mind is relaxed. This link between relaxation and cognitive flexibility and depth of thought, especially the ability to make deep connections between disparate ideas, has been studied, and vacations have shown to be beneficial to this. For example, one study into creative directors of high-end fashion houses found those who lived overseas and removed themselves from the busy day-to-day life produced more consistently creative fashion lines, as determined by industry experts and independent buyers.
Often restless sleep stems from stress and occupied minds that people bring through their daily life. Research has discovered that time off from work and an interruption of work habits that disrupt sleep (such as working late) will naturally benefit an individual's sleep. Another reason a vacation can improve sleep is that a new bed and a new environment can help dissociate a person from their negative sleep patterns back home. Some research into this has found that after two to three days of vacation, participations averaged an hour more of good quality of sleep and experienced an 80 percent improvement in their reaction times. When returning home, the better sleep continued for a while, although the time depended on the individual and the business of their life.
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