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5 Signs You Need A Vacation

I have to admit it: this article was written for me. Working in the health and fitness industry, work and downtime tend to severely overlap. When you enjoy what you do and have every desire to serve others with tools and information to live a healthy life, it’s easy to work too many hours and not take enough time off to do nothing.

But I know I’m not the only one. It’s been recognized that most Americans lose more than half of their paid time off hours each and every year. We’re a crowd of severe workaholics –often performers, worried that taking too much time off during a work year would cause low productivity or a negative perception from our boss and peers.  But what we should be thinking about is the impact that negating personal time off can have on our metabolism and health.

I see this all of the time.  Having the opportunity to read thousands of lab results of our member’s metabolisms, one of the most common metabolic disruptions that has come through is the imbalance of stress hormones. Nobody wants to talk about stress – it’s not sexy, we know we have it, and it’s not something we are ready to address by making major lifestyle changes (job, commute, family, etc) to fix it.

But what if I told you one of the most common recommendations I give, after identifying imbalanced stress hormones through lab results, was to take a vacation. It might not sound like a common set of “dietitian orders” but I’m telling you, it needs to be said and when practiced, it’s made a major impact on my client’s stress hormone levels and weight. And for many of us, we need that reminder and accountability.

There are many symptoms that are related to imbalanced stress hormones.  Below are the five most common ones I’ve found with my clients who were in dire need of extreme rest and relaxation.

It’s hard to seize the moment.

Have you ever considered living life through the eyes of a two year old? They have no cares in the world and aren’t thinking about their to-do list for tomorrow. Just living and thinking about what they’re doing right in this moment. As adults we lose this and have a hard time living in the moment although we know it’s important and know life is short.

I know I have my times that I can get easily distracted trying to do too many things or responding to messages and emails on my phone.  Parenting a toddler has given me more perspective of this (as she purposely misbehaves when momma is paying attention to her phone and not to her). Turning my phone notifications off after the workday and leaving my phone on the counter (away from the dinner table and nightstand) has served as a great reminder for me to be in the moment when I’m with her and my spouse.

But, if you can’t easily put the phone down or feel anxious or irritable of work or things that are taking mindshare away from being present, it’s a sure sign you need a break.

The bills aren’t getting paid, but you have plenty of money in your bank account.

Perhaps you keep forgetting to RSVP to upcoming birthday parties (guilty!), missing your dentist appointment or calling back your best friend who left you a voicemail weeks ago.  Or, you might find yourself skipping meals (because you have no time to eat) or other habitual behaviors. I know in my worst times, I might get to lunch time and realize I haven’t had one glass of water yet.

This never feels good. Not only do you feel like you are letting yourself or others down, but you don’t feel like yourself. These times can feel insane and frustrating (especially after realizing you now owe a late fee on a bill you had money for), but it’s also a good sign that you need a good unplugging.

All you talk about is work.

Do your work challenges and conversations spill into family dinner or your pillow talk with your spouse? Perhaps you are constantly complaining about work commitments or deadlines with your friends at happy hour. As Americans, we spend more time working than we do anything else, so it can be easy to have it spill into our “after hours” time when we should be focusing on meaningful conversations with friends and family.

One of the best pieces of advice I got from a client was to keep work at work. Don’t bring the work stress home with you to your family and try to keep separation between work and home. This can be challenging, again, as sometimes it’s nice to have perspective and grounding from a spouse at home when it comes to certain events or issues that might arise at work. But, if you feel like you can’t not talk about work or feel like the stress and anxiety of work overtake any other points of interest when you are at home, it’s becoming too much.

Your downtime isn’t downtime.

Do you get home from work and find yourself on the couch, too tired to move and mentally drained? This feeling isn’t fun, as at this point in the day, you should still have enough energy to go for a run outside, play with your kids, or even practice a hobby you enjoy.

Although sitting on the cough might sound relaxing, it’s stealing from the minimal time you get to invest in activities that actually promote your health and wellness (not make it worse). And if you are like most Americans, chances are you are scrolling through your phone, further increasing your stress response in your body.

Sometimes couch time is habitual and you just have to break the habit. But if you feel like your energy is completely tapped out by the end of the workday, your body needs extra time focused on rest.

Your weekly indulgence becomes a new nightly routine.

Our workaholic behaviors often lead to tools and foods that provide stimulation (caffeine) along with relaxation (alcohol). Although most people know that alcohol can have a negative impact on their metabolism and health, it’s often overused as a way to relax and take the edge off after a high-speed day at work.

What most people don’t know is that our bodies can actually learn to relax on their own, but it takes time and practice.  Meditation, gratitude journaling or yoga can have all been shown to have an even more powerful stress reduction on your body.

If your weekend drink has turned into a daily nightcap, it’s a sure sign that you are trying to cope with stress but not in the most healthy way (or metabolism boosting) way.

Final Orders

Planning out and using all of your paid off vacation days can be a great way to prevent any built up stress or any of the signs above. And using your time off, doesn’t necessarily mean you have to go on some elaborate trip. You could consider taking a random day off during the middle of the work week to get some household or personal errands done (such as paying the bills or RSVP'ing to that birthday party). Staycations for long weekends are also becoming more popular as families can plan out fun events without adding on the cost of travel or hotel accommodations.

I often advise my clients to know what their exact paid time off balance is for the year and to plan out as many of those days as possible, while leaving a few emergency days in their bank in case some of the symptoms above start to occur. And, the act of planning a vacation has been shown to reduce stress levels and encourage healthy behaviors as it leads up the planned event. 

My only other rule is to disconnect as much as possible. When you are off of work, don’t check work email and do as much as you can to have coverage while you are away so there is no temptation for coworkers to reach out to you.

I hope this was encouraging! We all need these little reminders from time to time and if we can prevent any additional reason for stress to build up in our system, the better for your metabolism and waistline. If you are at all interested in learning about Life Time’s lab tests that can assess stress and other hormones, email for more information.

In health, Anika Christ – Senior Program Manager – Life Time Weight Loss

This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader. 

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