Vacations Don’t Always Improve Wellness

By John Richter (staff)

I had just returned to work from a whirlwind, week-long vacation in Cuba when a colleague greeted me with an enthusiastic “welcome back, are you feeling refreshed?”  I hesitated to answer because the truth is – I wasn’t.  Yes the trip was fun, exciting and challenging, but restorative – not really.

Yet my colleague’s question is understandable because we tend to assume that vacations necessarily result in rest, relaxation and well—wellness.  To be sure, there are times when a week or two away from our routines and obligations; away from work or school or daily responsibilities can be restful.  What’s important is being aware and realistic about the kind of break we’re taking and how likely it is to contribute positively to our wellness.

Cuba was tough. It’s a hard country to navigate.  We had no telephone service, very limited internet and basic resources were scarce.  The inescapable backdrop for our “vacation” photos was extreme poverty and crumbling infrastructure (at least that’s how it was as soon as we strayed outside the designated tourist zones).  The whole experience, from logistical challenges to the emotional toll that developing countries can exact, left me with a wellness deficit instead of a recharged battery.  Traveling is stressful.  Crowded airports, delayed or canceled flights, jet lag, frenetic traffic, language barriers, and altered diet and sleep patterns can leave us depleted.  Sometimes it’s relationship stress on vacations that drain our wellness.  Spending significant time with family members or friends in close proximity can be taxing, even upsetting.

Here’s the takeaway—don’t presume that your next vacation (i.e., break from the routine, time off, etc.) will be restorative.  It’s good to have realistic expectations about the nature of the break we’re taking and build in some “buffer” time to reboot after or before the event.  In retrospect, I could have used a couple of days after Cuba to rest and get back to my usual routine before returning to work. Or maybe you need to process some relationship stressor you experienced while visiting.  Seek counsel from a trusted friend and debrief a little or simply allow some time of solitude to meditate or pray before getting back to your daily routine.

Vacations aren’t always good for our wellness.  Having realistic expectations about the type of break we’re taking and building in some necessary protective hedges is often in order.  Oh, and just accept that everyone is going to assume you’re refreshed, even if you’re not.