What is the ideal vacation to relieve stress, improve well-being?

As we approach August, those who have yet to take any time off from work to enjoy the summer weather may wonder what kind of vacation would be best. Should you take a week-long trip somewhere new, or a long weekend at a vacation home?

One big trip or several small ones?
Psychologists and researchers have been studying what kind of vacation is best for relieving stress, recharging for work and making the biggest impact on health and well-being. According to Jessica De Bloom, PhD, a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Tampere in Finland, the best approach is to take shorter, more frequent vacations, according to The Wall Street Journal.

"Holidays work more like sleep. You need regular recovery from work in order to stay healthy in the long run," she told WSJ.

Researchers agree vacations are important to our health. Studies have shown taking time off work reduces the risk of heart attacks and depression, relieves stress and can even improve work performance and creativity.

Anticipate your time off
Research shows anticipating what you will be doing during a vacation can yield greater emotional rewards than remembering a trip after returning home. According to one study published in the journal of Experimental Psychology: General in 2007, researchers found that anticipation led to higher satisfaction than the act of remembering the trip after it was over.

"We pre-live experiences — that is very emotionally arousing," Leaf Van Boven, PhD, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Colorado at Boulder and the lead author of the study, told WSJ. "Once it's in the past we tend to adopt more of a distant perspective from the experience."

Regain autonomy
Having autonomy while on vacation is also beneficial, experts say. For example, wake up naturally instead of letting an alarm clock wake you. Along similar lines, it is important to ensure you are not still chained to your desk while taking time off. According to WSJ, some executives have even implemented a company policy that requires all employees to use all of their vacation days.

While disconnecting form work is important, the idea of not checking email at all can be unsettling for some people. In this case, employees should designate a time in the morning and possibly a time in the evening to check email, according to Samantha Boardman, MD, a psychiatrist in New York City.

End on a high note
Studies have found that people often reflect on an experience such as a vacation based on how it ends. "Do your best to make things end well. If you're going to splurge and fly business class, don't do it on the way there, do it on the way home," Dr. Boardman told WSJ.

Finally, experts say easing back into work — meaning avoiding excessive workloads immediately after a trip — and finding leisure time in the evenings can help extend the mental and health benefits of a vacation. 

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