Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Take vacations to keep you mentally and physically healthy
Stress for Success
July 10, 2007

Unrelenting stress – even good stress -- leads to illness, disease, depression, burnout, and strained relationships. Why then do so many resist taking more time away from it? Some fear retribution at work if they take too much or even any vacation. Others think they’re invincible and don’t need time off. Eventually, however, it’ll catch up with you.

Vacations are mentally and physically healthy:
§ Psychosomatic Medicine: a study from State University College, Oswego, New York, showed men who take more frequent vacations have a 30% and women a 50% lower risk of dying of heart disease compared to those who don’t.
§ The Wisconsin Medical Journal: Marshfield Clinic research found that women who take frequent vacations are less likely to become depressed and report higher marital satisfaction
§ Participating in more leisure activities gives you greater satisfaction with life

Vacations also protect you from burnout, which is very difficult to recover from without a major life change. My husband and I were both severely burned out in the late 1990s due to professional and family stress. Our solution? We vacationed an entire year in a huge motor home traveling throughout the U.S., western Canada and Alaska. Upon our return we were ready and raring to go again. Wouldn’t it be great if everyone could create such an opportunity for themselves?

There are shorter and less expensive vacations that can improve your health. Last week I mentioned taking several long weekends vs. using up all of your annual days in one main vacation.

Another is to vacation at home. Disconnect from all work and possibly even personal communications and tour your own community. It’s much cheaper and we live in a tourist destination where there’s lots to do and see.

The minimum we should all do daily, or at least several times a week, is to take mental vacations. To facilitate this, enlarge and frame a photo of your most relaxing destination and keep it close by. As pressure builds, take a couple of minutes, close your eyes and take a mini-vacation in that beautiful spot. You’d be surprised how relaxing it can be. It won’t take the place of real vacations but it relieves stress like a boiling tea kettle releases steam.

You can reduce stress by fighting to protect the incredibly shrinking American vacation (putting energy into a goal reduces stress) by joining those who believe in a minimum paid-leave policy for all. The “Work to Live” and the “Take Back Your Time Campaign” have joined forces to pass a national three-week minimum paid-leave law. They argue that 127 other countries have laws protecting vacations. We don’t. They’re working to make this an issue in ’08 presidential campaign. If you’d like to join in, go to www.timeday.org.

Letting go of daily stressors through vacations allows your mind and body to recoup and build up greater resiliency to future stress. They recharge and rejuvenate you while improving your job performance when you return. It’s your responsibility to figure out how to best do that for your lifestyle and budget.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., of InterAction Associates, is a trainer and a Stress Coach. E-mail her at www.jackieferguson.com with your questions or for information about her workshops on this and other topics and to invite her to speak to your organization.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Working less, vacationing more can increase productivity, lower stress
Stress for Success
July 3, 2007

Tomorrow we celebrate America’s independence. It’s one of the few holidays that virtually everyone gets off from work and spends it eating and perhaps drinking too much. But hey! It’s only one day. And that’s the problem.

This year July 4th falls in the middle of the week so fewer people will take additional days off to create a long weekend. And we Americans, working far more than other industrialized nations, need not only more vacation days, we need to take off the days we earn.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American gets 8.1 days vacation after one year on the job, and only 10.2 days vacation after three years! We haven’t worked this many hours since the 1920s. Almost 40% of us work more than 50 hours a week! This is absolutely nuts!

How can humans be expected to produce quality work when they’re perpetually overstressed and exhausted? Do employers who pressure employees not to take all of their vacation time actually think they’re increasing productivity? Does a small business owner expect to be more industrious after working 60 to 70 hour weeks month after month?

According to a National Institute of Management report performance declines 25% after a 60 hour workweek.

But does more time off equate to greater productivity? Joe Robinson, author of "Work to Live: The Guide to Getting a Life" says evidence shows that it does. Vacation days mandated by law vary from 30 in Spain and France, to 25 in Japan, to 21 in Norway down to zero in the United States. Americans work 6½ weeks more a year then the British and 12½ weeks more than the Germans!

"Contrary to the American myth,” Robinson says, “a number of European countries have caught up with the United States in productivity." According to the US Federal Reserve Board, Europe had a higher productivity growth rate in 14 of the 19 years between 1981 and 2000.

Not only can time off enhance productivity but the opposite is also true; stress, partly caused by too little vacation time, is estimated to cost employers $150 billion a year.

But corporate America doesn’t seem at all close to changing its attitude about paid time off (couldn’t they at least let us take off our birthdays?). So how can you use your few and very precious annual vacation days to maximize stress reduction?

It makes logical sense to me that instead of taking all of your leave days in one continuous vacation to take off several long weekends a year. Simply planning a longer holiday can cause significant stress in itself and by the time you've adapted to the different pace of your planned vacation it’s time to go back to work.

Instead consider strategically scheduling your vacation days with long weekends such as Labor Day or Memorial Day. Several mini-vacations each year give you more frequent stress breaks so you won’t reach the peak of stress waiting an eternity for your once a year time away from work.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., of InterAction Associates, is a trainer and a Stress Coach. E-mail her at www.jackieferguson.com with your questions or for information about her workshops on this and other topics and to invite her to speak to your organization.