Are You Working Yourself Sick? Why Your Body Medically Needs A Break

Robin Berzin, MD
August 1, 2018

Scary stat: Most Americans don’t use all of their vacation time. Yet people who skip vacations are at higher risk of heart attack and death. Time off could save your life.

Vacation might seem like a privilege, but more and more research is pointing to it as a necessity for better health. If you’re always on, you could be working yourself sick. If I told you that former NASA scientists found that people drastically improve their sleep and reaction times after a week or more of vacation, would that make you more willing to take a break?

To be honest, it does for me. As someone building Parsley Health from the ground up , I am always on. Layer on top of that the fact that I am a doctor. Even though I’m not providing 24/7 emergency service these days, I check my patient messages every single day, no matter what. Effectively, I’m always on call. I see the wear and tear in my eyes and my attention span after I work a couple of months without a break. I also see it in my patients. So many of them are so wholly identified with their work or family that they never take time to restore.

The health impacts of working too much

Overworking yourself can have serious health implications. A study from University College London found that people who worked more than 55 hours per week had a 13 percent greater risk of a heart attack and were 33 percent more likely to suffer a stroke, compared with those who worked 35 to 40 hours per week. Plus, working longer hours may make you more likely to overindulge in alcohol, further increasing your risk for several health conditions.

Even worse, research shows that going away but checking email while you’re there is almost as bad as not taking vacation to begin with. According to scientists at Tel Aviv University who studied the subject for 10 years, people who are electronically wired in to their office, even if they are lying on the Riviera, are less likely to get the benefits of a vacation and more likely to burn out. Is working yourself sick really worth it?

How vacations benefit your health

One of the biggest ways vacation boost your health is by relieving stress. That’s no small thing given the stress levels that most people experience these days. A new report from the American Psychological Association found that 57 percent of people felt less stressed after taking vacation, 68 percent returned with a positive mood, and 66 percent felt more energized . That break is enough to have a measurable effect on your health.

Research from the Framingham Heart Study, a long term ongoing study , found that men who don’t take vacation were 30 percent more likely to have a heart attack, while women were 50 percent more likely. And ‘vacation’ doesn’t need to be two weeks on a beach—one recent small study found that four nights at a hotel or spent at home had immediate effects on perceived stress, recovery, and strain.

Adrenal fatigue is real . And while diet and supplements help, the real cure is rest. Actual rest. So what can you do? Take vacation more seriously. You’ll be 100 percent more effective when you come back, and you will have a legitimately longer and healthier lifespan.

Here’s how to reap the benefits of vacation

1. Power down.

Turn off your phone, iPad, and laptop for a minimum of three days. Do not look at a connected device in this time. If this feels impossible, ask yourself what that says about your life and ability to be present. If you find it hard to avoid the temptation, try going somewhere you won’t have cell or internet service. That could mean a different country and saying no to an international phone plan or in the mountains, far beyond the reach of cell towers.

2. Build self-care into your life.

So many of us are waiting for that one-week trip that’s still six months away. But what if you could take a vacation without actually going anywhere? Self-care is all about finding those smaller moments of restoration. This could be a massage, a yoga class, or even just letting yourself sleep in.

3. Create protected weekends.

If you’re answering emails on a Saturday afternoon and fielding work requests on Sundays, it’s not wonder you feel burnt out. Weekends are designed to help you recharge. Choose at least two weekends per month and make Saturday and Sunday truly work-free. Create an auto-response email that says you’re out of reach until Monday. Discover how the world didn’t end when you waited until Monday to log on again.

4. Do a silent meditation retreat.

The 10-day silent Vipassana meditation retreat I did in 2008 was life-changing. But I think if I did it again today it would be even more life changing because of the simple fact that email, computers, and phones were less consuming then. Talk about a luxury. Think you don’t have time? Make time. There will never be a “good time.” And you’ll be surprised how after 10 days your life is still there waiting for you, nothing terrible happened, and it wasn’t so long after all.

5. Remember living is more than working.

Even if, like me, you are a passionate all-in creator whose work is her life, remember what else makes you happy. Aside from work, I also need to live on the beach away from it all, spend time over dinner with friends, and spend time walking in nature. I have to turn off in order to restore so I can be the best doctor/founder/boss/wife/mother/friend.

I have no fear that at the end of my life I will look back and wish I had taken less vacation. I don’t think you will either. Let’s just not look back and wish we had given ourselves the gift of taking more.

Robin Berzin, MD

Dr. Robin Berzin is the Founder and CEO of Parsley Health, America's leading holistic medical practice designed to help women overcome chronic conditions. She founded Parsley to address the rising tide of chronic disease in America through personalized holistic medicine that puts food, lifestyle, and proactive diagnostic testing on the prescription pad next to medications. Since founding Parsley in 2016, Dr. Berzin has seen 80% of patients improve or resolve their chronic conditions within their first year of care, demonstrating the life-changing value of making modern holistic medicine accessible to everyone, anywhere. Parsley is available online nationwide.

Dr. Berzin attended medical school at Columbia University and trained in Internal Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. Her book, Prescription for Happiness: How to Eat, Move, and Supplement for Peak Mental Health, was published by Simon Element in January 2022.

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