5 mins

“Here comes the sun, and I say it’s alright”: The psychological benefits of holidays

Sun or no sun holidays have become an integral part of life. Taking a break from work or other life responsibilities is now a widely accepted and even expected undertaking. The history of holidays goes back many centuries, and once upon a time travel was reserved for the most elite of society. In the past gaps in working life were usually used for cultural or religious observance. Nowadays this might still be the case but for the most part taking a holiday refers to a purely recreational endeavour. When considering the benefits of holidays we are thinking of any block of time away from working life or other routine responsibilities. This might be time spent in another setting or it could be a ‘staycation’. In the instance of the family holiday, clearly those parental roles are still key, however one might adapt or relax normal routines.

The build-up

The psychological benefits of holidays aren’t constricted to the holiday itself. Think back over the past few months and ask yourself how many times you have discussed holiday plans? It’s a ‘go-to’ topic for people we relate to in all spheres of our lives; our hairdressers, doctors, work colleagues, close friends, family and so on. There are social benefits from the build-up process to taking a holiday. We can discuss our plans and our previous experience of holidays with others which makes for pleasant interactions and connections with others.

Thinking about and planning a holiday can be beneficial in its own right. Being able to look ahead and see punctuations to our working life can help us cope in the here and now with stressful situations. It is the antithesis to worry and stress, we see that there is a time in the future when we will be able to relax, pursue a hobby, see a new sight or even get time to complete overdue DIY projects. Stress can be a combination of worry thoughts, concern with past events, high levels of emotions particularly anxiety. At points when we feel stress reminding ourselves that there is a time when we can take a break or respite from this can be extremely helpful.


The holiday

The World Health Organization has defined six areas where we are able to derive life satisfaction and good quality of life. There are many ways in which our holidays benefit these different life domains. For instance, in terms of physical wellbeing many people will report that they have improved energy, feel less pain and sleep better during the holiday period. It is likely that this is solidly linked to psychological factors such as being able to let negative thinking patterns go. Whatever activities we might be pursuing on our holidays, whether that be scuba diving in the red sea, or catching up on a box set at home they are demanding of our attention. This means that much of the worry and rumination we normally struggle with in our normal routine is squeezed out of the picture. This in turn means that the negative emotions that are usually associated with those thinking patterns can reduce down and as a result we can find ourselves feeling much calmer even on the most energetic of breaks.

The opposite is true when it comes to positive emotions. Wellbeing is not just about reducing our negative emotions and thoughts it is also about providing ourselves with opportunities to experience pleasure and positive mood. Holidays give us time to visit new places, experience new things, connect with family and friends, which are all things that can provide positive experience. They can also help with improving our self-esteem. Our sense of self and identity is formed from many parts of our experience including how we spend our leisure time. So whether we are using our holiday to relax, get some chores done around the home or travel to far reaching places it will help contribute to our overall sense of self and self-image.

Post-holiday blues?

Many people return from their breaks stating that they are feeling the post-holiday blues. This in itself reinforces that notion that holidays are hugely beneficial to our sense of well-being. If they weren’t why would we lament them coming to an end so much? The good news is that we live in a society where breaks from working life have become the norm and any regret about the break coming to an end can be easily managed by planning ahead to the next point at which work or normal routine can be interrupted in the future. Once the initial response at returning to normal routine has subsided one can still reap the benefits of the holiday. Sharing holiday snaps, reminiscing and comparing holidays becomes part of the cycle and again just thinking about the experience can provide a sense of calm and respite from the stress and strains of daily life.

Overall, holidays can benefit our wellbeing in a number of ways. We can feel more relaxed physically and emotionally. They provide us with opportunities to explore recreational activities that benefit our sense of self-worth. Our social relationships can improve before, during and after being on holiday. For some they are an opportunity to observe spiritual, religious or personal beliefs and customs. Finally, many of us see it as a time to explore different environments and expand our horizons. All of these things can contribute to an overall improvement in our satisfaction with life, an all sunnier outlook altogether.

WHOQOL measuring quality of life (1997). Division of mental health and prevention of substance abuse. www.who.int/mental_health/media/68.pdf

Dr Elena Touroni

Dr Elena Touroni

26 August 2016

"Dr. Elena Touroni is a skilled and experienced Consultant Psychologist with a track record of delivering high-quality services for individuals with all common emotional difficulties and those with a diagnosis of personality disorder. She is experienced in service design and delivery, the management of multi-disciplinary teams, organisational consultancy, and development and delivery of both national and bespoke training to providers in the statutory and non-statutory sector."

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Dr Stacie Tay

Dr Stacie Tay attained her BSc (Hons) Psychology at the University of Nottingham and worked as a psychologist at the Institute of Mental Health, Singapore, before returning to the UK to complete her Doctorate in Clinical Psychology at the University College London.   

Dr Tay has worked in a variety of settings within the NHS for more than eight years, including primary and secondary care, specialist psychological services and forensic inpatient settings. She currently works as a Clinical Psychologist at the North East London Foundation Trust.  

She has extensive experience working with individuals and groups, providing evidence-based psychological therapies including Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Interpersonal Psychotherapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), Compassion Focused Therapy (CFT) and Mindfulness-based approaches as well as Schema-informed therapy.   

Dr Tay’s clinical experience involves working with people who present with a range of mild to severe mental health difficulties. This includes depression, anxiety (OCD, social anxiety, panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, health anxiety, phobia-related disorders, PTSD), stress related issues, low self-esteem, complex trauma, interpersonal difficulties, grief and bereavement, and long-term health conditions.