While many people are at least aware that there are physical and mental health benefits that come from taking vacations, Americans still take fewer holidays and time off than the rest of the working Western world.

Did you know that traveling can lower your risk for depression, improve your fight against heart disease, and boost your job and life satisfaction? Some studies even show that the benefits from taking a vacation stick around for as long as two months after jumping back into the daily grind. These benefits, combined with a few others, show that taking vacations play an important role in our overall mental health.

Pre-Vacation Benefits

While some people get stressed out planning their vacations, most people find their excitement building as they prepare for time away. From planning where to go and what to do, studies have shown that looking forward to a favorable experience is an almost instant mood-booster. A study by Cornell University even shows that we get more happiness anticipating travel than we do anticipating a new purchase.  

That pre-vacation excitement isn’t just impacting an upcoming trip. We can even start to view things in the moment with a more positive outlook, letting little stressors get to us less and less, like smiling through traffic jams or letting unfriendly emails roll off our backs.

During-Vacation Benefits

Whether you’re traveling to a sunny beach in Panama City or a quaint town in Maine, a person traveling often gets much more exercise than they do in their normal daily lives, which often consists of too much screen time. Extra exercise improves one’s physical and mental health. The Global Commission on Aging and Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies says that women who travel twice a year have a significantly lower risk of suffering a heart attack. This definitely has to do with the physical activity associated with taking vacations, but also with the positive impact that walking has on our mental state. Our minds are clearer and less stressed, and we’re more at ease when we’re regularly tying up the laces on our walking shoes.

That same study showed that the benefits of vacation are almost immediate. Within just a few days of starting a vacation, our stress is lower and our outlook is more positive. This comes from:

  • Observing the beauty and newness of a different environment. A sunset is always beautiful, but a sunset in Rome is something a bit more special to behold than a sunset at home.
  • Gaining a new perspective—or even a few! Trying new foods, experiencing new music, and learning about different cultures creates the kind of excitement that is shown to improve mood.
  • Experiencing less anxiety around work, friends, bills and other responsibilities. Yes, lost luggage or a missed flight can bump up the blood pressure, but the vacation high encourages most of us to stay relatively calm.
  • Enjoying the simplicity of a vacation, even with a packed itinerary, removes us from the complicated, often stressful environments back home that can elicit negative emotions.
  • Boosting our relationships—with the partner we’re traveling with or with ourselves. Vacations are a chance to reconnect with and reignite our passion for the things and people we love.

Post-Vacation Benefits

Vacations have spillover effects on our overall job and life satisfaction. People report feeling more energized to tackle projects at work, more in control of their lives, and better able to manage stress and negative emotions. Vacations encourage improved work-life balance, as well as a decreased feeling of pressure from deadlines and due dates, which impact the load often weighing on our minds.

That post-vacation glow will eventually fade, but that’s why it’s important to take several vacations a year of any length. Remember, even just planning a vacation improves your mental health!

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Entering rehab is an achievement in itself, yet approximately 90 percent of recovery survivors have at least one relapse before achieving long-term sobriety. Signs that a setback may be on the horizon include a change in attitude and behavior (from positive to negative), stress, old feelings of denial, withdrawal from social activities, increased cravings, and a loss of judgment and control. Along with continuing a structured program, joining a support group, and getting guidance from your coach, exercise can be a wonderful accompaniment to help you break the cycle of addiction.

Working up a sweat is a great way to manage stressors, triggers and cravings while boosting self-esteem in the process. Here’s how to get started and stay committed to a healthier and happier lifestyle.

Talk To Your Physician First

Drugs and alcohol take a toll on the body from a mental and a physical standpoint, so it’s important to speak to your physician before starting a program. Along with overall weakness, loss of strength and malnutrition, more serious side effects include muscle atrophy (a breakdown of the muscle), cardiovascular disease, liver disease, lung cancer (from smoking illicit substances), and severe cognitive disorders. With that in mind, you’ve got to make sure your health is in check so you’re not overdoing it—especially in the beginning.

Find A Workout You Enjoy

Whether you’re discovering a new workout or you’re revisiting an old one, doing something you enjoy is the key to making fitness a way of life for the long-term, which is a crucial part of maintaining sobriety. While no exercise or sport is off the list, some popular choices for recovery survivors include:

Yoga: Both body and mind are altered from drug and alcohol abuse, so yoga is a great way to strengthen the body while releasing stress and anxiety that could lead to a relapse. If your treatment center doesn’t offer yoga, most cities and towns have studios due to the popularity of the practice—but don’t let finding a location hold you back. Download a yoga app, buy a mat, and head to a peaceful place such as a park, forest preserve, beach or even your own backyard, and take the opportunity to connect with yourself.

Walking/Hiking: While there’s nothing wrong with running, it can be a bit too aggressive at the beginning of recovery. Not to mention, it only takes a 15-minute walk to help curb cravings when they pop up. Walking and/or hiking are also easier to maintain for the long-term, as they are less stressful on the body and can be done with little or no effort. As an added bonus, being outdoors gives your body a much-needed dose of mood-boosting and bone-building vitamin D.

Biking/Swimming: Not only are activities like cycling and swimming also easy to maintain, but they are low-impact, so they won’t put any pressure on the joints even though you’ll be rebuilding vital muscle tissue.

Team Sports: The camaraderie that comes from playing a team sport can aid long-term recovery. Establishing relationships and activities that have nothing to do with drugs or alcohol can help you regain control of your life. Sign up for a league, or get a group of like-minded individuals together, perhaps from your program or support group. Completing physical challenges in a group setting can boost self-esteem, too.

While exercise is definitely a healthier alternative to drugs or alcohol, you have to be careful you’re not trading one addiction for another—especially as feelings of depression and cravings start to subside. That runner’s “high” may seem harmless, but recovery survivors are at risk for becoming compulsive workout junkies. Make sure you’re incorporating other self-care habits such as eating nutritious food, getting enough rest, taking breaks from technology, and journaling about your feelings.

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