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Why taking leave is good for your health

Specialist Nurse Advisor for Mental Health, Bupa UK
16 July 2020

Are you struggling to remember the last time you booked annual leave? You may have decided to avoid taking a holiday until the current travel restrictions end. Or have you been so busy at work that you’ve made no plans to take time off? Whatever your reasons for not taking leave, it’s important to take a break from work, especially during these challenging times.

Studies have found that having regular holidays from work can really benefit your mental health and wellbeing. As well as providing a change of scene, they can help reduce stress, which can lead to health problems like depression, anxiety and obesity.

Booking annual leave regularly also gives us a chance to relax and recharge our batteries. Kirstin Newman, Head of Advice and Occupational Health Services at Bupa UK, agrees. “It’s important to use annual leave as an opportunity to recharge and get a proper break from work. This can help you to manage your wellbeing, perform better at work and be more productive.”

Tips for taking regular holidays and switching off

Have a plan for how frequently you need to take a break and book the time now. “Consider planning some longer blocks of time off to give yourself a proper break. Aim to have taken 75 percent of your leave three quarters of the way through the holiday year,” adds Kirstin.

Here are some other tips.

  • Remind yourself that annual leave is not an optional extra, but is a legal entitlement, and is important for your health and wellbeing.
  • Before you take time off work, plan to reassign or reschedule work that needs to be done while you’re away. This will help to ensure that you don’t have to worry about coming back to an increased workload.
  • Put your ‘out of office’ on before you go on leave, so everyone knows you aren’t working.
  • Create a back-to-work plan or checklist, to avoid worrying about what you need to do.
  • Plan for a break that won’t require you to check your inbox. Taking leave also means taking time to switch off from work emails. Otherwise your chances of relaxing and resting will be less.

Creative ways to holiday and relax at home

Despite some of our normal social activities being still on hold, there are lots of ways that you can be creative with your annual leave. Here are some ideas to help you get the most out of it.

  • Explore local wildlife. You don’t need to travel far to get a nature fix. The UK is home to a wide range of interesting wildlife, such as birds, hedgehogs and squirrels. With a lot of wildlife on your doorstep, your time-off could be a great chance to spend time outdoors discovering the wildlife on your doorstep and surrounding area.
  • Discover local green spaces. During lockdown many of us have found pockets of beautiful green spaces within walking distance that we didn’t know existed. This is the perfect time to explore your local parks and pockets of nearby countryside. Getting out in the fresh air and exercising can also work wonders for your mental health.
  • Enjoy a virtual travel experience. While regular travel oversees may be on hold for now, why not indulge in some virtual travel experiences? Some of the world’s leading museums and galleries are offering interactive online tour experiences, that allow you to virtually visit places.
  • Escape into a good book. For many people, getting stuck into a good book on holiday is the ultimate way to relax. While being at home might not be your ideal scenery, find a cosy spot in your home or garden to get lost in a book of your choice. Research has also shown that reading can benefit our mental wellbeing.
  • Experiment with some foreign cuisine. Get yourself into ‘holiday mode’ in the kitchen by cooking up some cuisine from your favourite destinations. There’s also plenty of evidence to suggest that cooking is good for our mental health. If you love Spanish food try making paella or patatas bravas. Or if you fancy a taste of Italy have a go at making homemade pizza, risotto or a pasta dish. The cuisine choices are endless!
  • Tap into your creative side. Taking time-off is the perfect time to get stuck into some arts and crafts activities. As well as helping you to relax and unwind they can be a great way of reducing anxiety and increasing your positive emotions. Getting creative can also help you to feel happier and more relaxed than doing other activities like watching TV.

Whatever you decide to do on your time-off, it’s important to spend it doing things that make you feel relaxed and happy. This will help you to switch off from work and give your health and wellbeing a welcome boost.

Richard Smith
Specialist Nurse Advisor for Mental Health, Bupa UK

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    • GOV.UK. Holiday entitlement. GOV.UK. www.gov.uk, accessed July 2020
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