How Vacations Help the Business Brain

The thought of this impending time off from the daily in and out of work exhilarates me — and worries me.

On the pro side is the anticipation of rest, renewal and relaxation. Weighing in on the negatives are preparing to go in the first place and a heavier workload when I return.

“We skip vacations because we worry that the person next to us will get ahead while we’re gone,” says Don Joseph Goewey, author of Mystic Cool: A proven approach to transcend stress, achieve optimal brain function, and maximize your creative intelligence. “Or we’re afraid that the work piling up on our desk will put us so far behind that we’ll never catch up.”

As it turns out, however, not going on vacation might be bad for our brains.

Research shows that constantly being under pressure floods our brain with stress hormones, which then erode the higher brain function we need to sustain peak performance,” says Goewey. “The opposite is also true. Activity in the hippocampus and neocortex centers of the brain (the place where everything we think of as intelligence is generated) increases during periods of wakeful rest, such as breaks during the day, time off during the week or a vacation during the year.”

Goewey says that the reward for the time you invest in a vacation is a brain humming with the creative intelligence, common sense and physical energy that will sustain you at the top of your game.

David Allen, best-selling author of Making It All Work: Winning at the Game of Work and the Business of Life, is a strong proponent of the power of taking vacations as well.

“I think productivity is always enhanced when you have the chance to evaluate your life and work from multiple horizons,” says Allen. “Vacations help you from getting too far down in the weeds and provide an opportunity to refresh and restore.”

But despite all expert advice and scientific evidence, a recent survey by the American Express OPEN Small Business Vacation Monitor showed that less than half (46 percent) of small business owners plan to take a vacation this summer — down from a high of 67 percent in 2006 — and 37 percent list a busy work schedule as the culprit. And even for those who do plan on diving in and taking a few days off, 68 percent say they will stay connected to work and check in while on vacation.

So this summer, give your brain a break, go forth and vacate. Build up your brain’s higher function, get a perspective on your life, reinvent your career, play some golf, eat an ice cream cone and hike with the kids. It will be good for your well being and, ultimately, your wallet.

Be sure to check back next week when I will be doing the second post in this series on taking a vacation with a focus on tips to prepare for, and return from, a vacation with ease.

Do you plan on taking a vacation any time soon? I’d would love to hear your comments.

This post was originally published at Karen Leland’s Featured Small Business column on The Huffington Post.

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9 Responses

  1. With the economy picking up (slightly) and my job relatively safe, I am actually taking my first vacation in rougly four years. I can’t wait for it, as I actually have noticed that my work has suffered at points just purely because I feel so run down all the time.

  2. Cathryn says:

    I don’t think this kind of research is anything groundbreaking, while sure, the exact nature of the brain chemicals and whatnot is probably new; but the idea that a break can help you think clearer, not exactly news.

  3. Clare Vaughan Davies says:

    Seems like common sense to me, I unfortunately won’t be able to go for a summer holiday this year, but I have scheduled a winter getaway to the South Pacific to recharge my batteries.

  4. Menachem says:

    Well I think that that study might be slightly flawed, as a summer vacation is something that is not necessarily the norm now. As if one were going to go to the South Hemisphere to enjoy Summer weather, you would do it in the winter, and people seek bargins, so more people travel in off peak season to destinations to save money.

  5. Is there an optimal time of year to invest in a vacation, that would be a good study to investigate.

  6. Beth says:

    I have always found that time away is perhaps the most precious thing there is, you do feel rested and refreshed, ready to go. Also I’ve found with most of my vacations over the years, that by the end of it, you want to come home anyways, being away grows tedious after too long.

  7. Rob Shambro says:

    I can’t afford a summer vacation in my line of work, as that is our busiest time of year.

  8. Michelle says:

    It seems that a lot of your articles advocate for people taking more and more time away from work, I thought this was suppose to be a blog about work, not vacations.

  9. I try to get away twice a year, if only for a week or extra long weekend before really busy periods. Always seems to put me in a great frame of mind and give me energy for the daily grind.

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