How many times have you caught yourself staring at your computer screen thinking “I need a break”? Have you just realized that it’s already October and you haven’t taken any time off yet this year?
As lawyers, we are constantly hustling to make court deadlines, or trying to fulfill our billable hours requirements, or agonizing over our career path, or feeling the pressure of always being on call for clients. Doing so can overwork us and lead to fatigue, workplace stress, job dissatisfaction, and burnout, to name a few.
The number one thing we can do to recover? Take a vacation.
Most of us don’t take enough time off. According to The State of American Vacation 2018, 52% of U.S. employees reported having unused vacation days at the end of 2017. This amounts to a whopping 705 million days squandered a year.
Yet a number of studies have shown that taking time away from your job can have physical and psychological health benefits. Vacations can help you relax, reduce stress, recharge, and spend time with family and loved ones. By not taking a vacation, you might actually be risking your health.
Here are five reasons why you should book your next vacation:
1. Better Mental Health
Lawyers are the most frequently depressed occupational group in the U.S.; they are 3.6 times more likely to suffer from depression than non-lawyers. A study conducted by the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation and the American Bar Association Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs reported that 28% of licensed, employed attorneys struggle with some level of depression. A survey by the University of Pittsburgh’s Mind-Body Center found that leisure pursuits, including vacations, contributed to less depression and higher positive emotional levels. Similarly, a study from the Netherlands found that happiness levels rise almost immediately when starting to plan a trip. When you begin planning a vacation, your frame of mind improves as you have something to look forward to. This vacation anticipation can lift your spirits, raise your optimism, and help combat depression.
2. Improved Sleep Quality
A study for the National Health Interview Survey says that lawyers are the second most sleep-deprived occupation in the United States. Sleep deprivation has long been linked to weight gain, depression, memory loss, diabetes, and stroke. However, researchers have found that vacations can help interrupt the behaviors that disrupt sleep, such as working late or watching or reading a backlit screen before bed. Vacations can help to reset your sleep pattern. When you are on vacation you are more likely to let your circadian rhythms decide when you go to sleep and wake up. Studies have shown that people who take vacations have an almost 20% improvement in their sleep.
3. Less Stress
The ABA and Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation study also found that 19% of licensed, employed attorneys demonstrate symptoms of anxiety. Taking time off can help workers recover from stress and experience positive effects that improve their well-being and job performance. The American Psychological Association’s 2018 Work and Well-being survey reported that 57% of working Americans felt less stressed after taking vacation time. Additionally, 58% reported they were more productive, and 55% reported their work quality was better.
4. Cardiovascular Health Benefits
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control. A number of studies highlight the cardiovascular health benefits of taking a vacation. The Framingham Heart Study, the longest running study of cardiovascular disease, found that men who didn’t take a vacation for several years were 30% more likely to suffer heart attacks than men who took a vacation at least once a year. Similarly, women who took a vacation once every six years or less were almost eight times as likely to have a heart attack or develop coronary heart disease as those who took at least two vacations a year.
5. Stronger Family Relationships
We’ve all heard the stories of the 80- or 100-hour work week that lawyers put in. But while spending all that time at work may help you get ahead at the office, it may cause relations with your loved ones to decline. The good news is that vacations can lead to better family relationships. A group of researchers led by Purdue University’s Xinran Lehto found that by engaging in shared experiences, vacations help foster growth in families by encouraging family bonding and communication. Sharing family memories and spending time together outside of ordinary everyday activities help to connect families together.
So Start Planning
The health benefits of vacations are clear. Even if you’re not able to take an extended vacation, try to take small minibreaks or a long weekend. Just like your heart, your brain can get fatigued from working too hard. One study has shown that mental fatigue can take hold after three hours of continuous time on-task. Take a walk, have a non-work conversation with a friend, go work out, or take a nap. Studies have shown that performance increases after breaks of all durations, and this recovery time can help restore energy and increase your focus.
There are plenty of benefits that can be gained from getting away. As we head into the last quarter of the year, take some time to check your vacation balance. In the long run, your health is too important to not take some time off.