The small rural community of Barre, Massachusetts is not just known for its acres of fields but for a three-month long event that is held every year. The event in Barre is one of the only “meditation marathon’s” in the world is located. Most of the participants spend their time in silence while meditating, practicing yoga or hiking through fields. The goal is to empty your mind of all of its busyness. Our lives are so busy, and we have so many thoughts running through them that we rarely stop to breathe. This event allows one to settle down and just be.
In 2010 LexixNexis surveyed over 1700 white collar workers in some industrialized countries including the U.S., China, South Africa, the U.K. and Australia. Shockingly, more than half of the workday is spent receiving information rather than actually performing their jobs. We are currently bombarded and inundated with information. Turn on the television or computer screen, and ads are constantly popping up. With the technology today we are never able just to escape and turn off.
Combatting this the European Union mandates 20 days of paid vacation each year, but in the United States, there are no federal laws that guarantee paid time off, sick leave or even national holidays. Europe is ahead of the trend with the Netherlands offering 26 days of paid vacation each year. In Canada, America, Japan and Hong Kong the average American takes ten days off each year. At the end of the fiscal year in America, there was an average of nine unused vacation days a Harris Interactive Survey found.
Americans do not know just how to shut off all of the activities to-do lists running through their heads. When was the last time you had a tech-free day? We obsessively check our emails, texts, voicemails and other electronic gadgets. Ironically the more we work, the less we achieve. Our brain requires downtime to be more productive. Tim Kreider of the New York Times wrote that “Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice.; it is as indispensable to the brain as Vitamin D is to the body and deprived of we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets.” He also stated it is “paradoxically necessary to getting work done.”
When someone is relaxed the following occurs:
- The heart can rest because the heart rate slows down.
- Your blood pressure is reducing
- Your rate of breathing has slowed which reduces the need for oxygen
- The blood flow to your muscles is increased
- Muscle tension is decreasing
- You have more energy, gain better sleep and have an enhanced immunity to disease
- Your concentration is better
- You become better at problem-solving abilities
- You achieve greater efficiency in the abilities you already have
- Your emotions are not as erratic
- You experience less pain and fewer headaches
The United States work ethic is very high and taking time off is frowned upon in the majority of companies. More than 1/3 of employees take lunch at their desks on a regular basis, if they even stop to eat. Over half of the employees just assume they will work on their vacations. Rewards are given out to those employees who work the hardest and continuously over time. Ironically these may not be the most productive of employees. The more time you spend at work leaves you less time for other important activities such as sleep. A Harvard study found that sleep deprivation (meaning you were getting less than six hours of sleep a night) costs American companies $63.2 billion a year in lost productivity.
There are an infinite number of ways to truly relax. Take a 15-minute break and walk around the block. Listen to soothing music. Take a cue from our southern neighbors and indulge in a little “siesta time.” The more you can truly embrace just relaxing the more you will be productive when you start back to work.
Another key element to benefit your health is exercise. Even moderate exercise 2-3 times a week has a profound positive effect on your body. Make it a game. Get a pedometer and see if you really can take 10,000 steps in a day. The more exercise you get, the better your sleep will be.
Vacations are excellent for your health also. Research has been done that shows that men who often vacation significantly reduce their risk of getting a cardiovascular disease. Women who chose not to vacation less than once every seven years were around eight times more likely to either experience a heart attack or other heart-related conditions. Taking a vacation increased the happiness quotient of employees along with reducing their stress and making them more productive.
One of the most important aspects of taking downtime is to unplug and disconnect from work and many of your other responsibilities. If you are still working while on vacation your are not doing anyone any favors much less you. Go back to nature and get yourself off the grid for awhile. The healthiness of your depend on the amount of relaxation you truly get. Dutch Researcher Jessica Debloom puts in quite succinctly when she states “The need for respite and-and enrichment is a well that calls for regular filling.”
We only have one body and we need to treat it well. Make it a goal to exercise regularly. Add your favorite form of relaxation to your weekly schedule. Indulge in an afternoon nap some lazy Sunday. Take a vacation. Your body will thank you.