So why is a spring break so good for us? We put the question to Dr Saul Hillman, psychologist, counsellor & therapist at the Belsize Health Clinic in Belsize Park, North London. In the first of this two-part mini-series, Saul explains why a short-break is particularly good to take at this time of year.
“Most of us are wrapped up in frantic lifestyles with multiple layers, competing demands and limited rewards on a day to day basis. Whilst we may simply get used to this sort of lifestyle and don’t necessarily always notice the stresses in our body or state of mind, the effects do build up, and we often need to step back, observe and tweak our lifestyle in order to make sure the balance has not gone awry.
“Two large studies confirm this and indicate that taking regular breaks and vacations reduces risk of health problems including cardiovascular disease. Further research at a more superficial level reports that people have more energy, higher degrees of life satisfaction and have fewer general health complaints after going away.
“At this time of the year, with the onset of spring and clocks going forward, we can benefit from longer and lighter evenings. There are strong reasons why a break may be a good move and may also have many positive health benefits. For more than one in ten people in the UK, the winter and darker months between November and March can be challenging to varying degrees with less natural light, together with a range of symptoms that often get clustered together under terms such as ‘Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)’ or ‘Winter Blues’. In essence, the reduced natural light stimulates the release of serotonin, which results in the feelings that we commonly associate with depression.
“On top of this, given that many people have also just left behind a very intense and financially challenging period of Christmas, the early months from January to March can be the most psychologically challenging. Often, we are faced with realities not always matching up to our expectations.
“Short breaks have the potential to release us from the stress cycle in our lives. When we get away, we remove ourselves from the actual physical location of our everyday life, the demands and rituals that pervade it and of course that state of hypervigilance which comes from the busy nature of our lives.
“As we all know and experience, a break can help by interrupting this pattern, defuse any lingering tensions, so that we can also gain a new perspective on what is important in our lives and what we maybe need to tap into more. So many studies support the benefits from taking vacations given how they buffer the stress from our work and home lives.”
Dr Saul Hillman (PhD, BACP, GHR) psychologist, counsellor & therapist
In part 2, Saul shares his top tips on making your short break work harder and better for you, so you feel de-stressed for longer – coming at the end of April!