When you think of “vacation brain,” you may think of the feeling that you get at work before a holiday weekend or much-anticipated vacation that makes it hard to focus on the many tasks at hand. While this is certainly a phenomenon observed in many, we would like to focus on a more positive vacation brain: the effects of rest and relaxation on your brain’s function. There’s been a lot of research on how vacation time helps your brain, and the results show that there’s a lot of good.
Jens Pruessner, professor of neuroscience at McGill University in Montreal, sums it up well by saying
“A vacation is not a luxury. It’s an investment in your health.”
There are many unexpected ways in which even just a few days off can make a drastic impact on your mental health.
We’ve all got stress, and we all know that getting away from every day life is a great way to relieve that stress. But a 2010 study performed in the Netherlands shows that the happiness associated with a de-stressing vacation only occurred in those who felt very relaxed during their trip. What does this mean? Take your vacation planning seriously and try to plan for any occurrence so that your time away doesn’t turn into another way to manufacture stress. Bonus: that same 2010 study also showed that just the act of planning a vacation gives your brain a happiness boost.
You don’t need to spend your whole vacation at the spa to reap the brain benefits of vacation time. You can also get mega creativity help by immersing yourself in another culture, whether it’s another country or just a city that you aren’t used to. When your brain is working to understand locals’ perspectives, whether you’re just eating in a restaurant with unfamiliar food or actually living and working abroad, you can start to develop a better perspective of yourself and the world around you, leading to a more creative way of thinking.
3. Improve Memory
In the routine of your daily life, your brain doesn’t experience much that is new, exciting, or memorable. When you’re doing the same things day after day, the part of your brain that creates memories can get a little rusty. Experiencing new things on vacation, your brain releases dopamine into your hippocampus, which is the part of your brain responsible for remembering things. Noticing and processing new and exciting things helps to improve memory and maybe even prevent Alzheimer’s, according to some research.
4. Grow Your Brain
Studies in rats show that stress can actually shrink parts of the brain, and some scientists believe the same effect occurs in humans. A study both in rats and humans showed that although after a month of stress, both species performed poorly on attention tasks, after a subsequent stress-free month both species were able to perform much better. So even if stress is wreaking its havoc on your brain, the situation is easy to reverse with some quality R&R.
5. Get Some Sleep
Sleep has amazing effects on your physical and mental health, from weight loss to attention to memory. A study by Air New Zealand showed that vacation helped people to get better-quality sleep both during and after their trip.