Divide your holidays up throughout the year
Is stretching yourself to the very limit and taking all your holidays in one go to ensure you get a real break, really the best option? Some experts aren’t convinced. Yes, there is such a thing as holiday experts and they have carved themselves a rather enviable professional niche. Some German researchers have even developed a theory, according to which the 8-1-5 rule is the ideal holiday pattern.
This is the number of weeks that should precede a holiday. What this means is planning your holidays two months in advance, if possible. “The simple fact of thinking about it beforehand, knowing that you are going to go away […] activates the reward circuits in the brain and creates a profound sense of well-being,” says Dr Frédéric Saldmann, cardiologist, nutritionist and author of several personal development books on how to live better. Planning a holiday at least two months in advance and being able to look forward to it is the way to benefit the most. According to a University of Chicago study published in 2014 in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, our brain manufactures 14% more dopamine when we are looking forward to something. Similarly, an American study “Waiting for Merlot: Anticipatory Consumption of Experiential and Material Purchases” confirms that people who plan a good experience in advance are very happy, if it is a concrete experience such as a purchase (booking a ticket or accommodation, for example).
The benefits therefore start accruing well before the holiday actually starts.
No, this isn’t the number of pre-dinner drinks that you should stick to per day when you’re on holiday. It is the optimum duration to restore your energy. A Finnish study also suggests that holidays that are too long don’t increase your happiness levels. Researchers have observed an improvement in physical and mental health from the first days of the holiday, reaching peak relaxation levels on the 8th day. According to Marc Schwob, psychiatrist and chronobiologist (someone who studies the effect of time on human biology), the ideal formula for an employee with five weeks paid leave a year is the following: two weeks in summer, a week in autumn, another one in February and a few long weekends in May. It is hard to go back to work after holidays that are too long, and does not leave enough holiday entitlement to divide up evenly over the rest of the year.
So, what’s the number five on our winning ticket? It’s the number of weeks after the holidays that you carry on benefiting from the relaxing effects.
Make the most of the holidays to do a (new) activity
Your idea is to do nothing during your holiday to make sure you fully recuperate? Bad idea, and bad news for you – lying on the beach for hours in the blazing sun isn’t a restful activity. In fact, it’s very bad for your health even with a high SPF sun protection cream, as Dr François Baumann explains. He recommends a maximum of fifteen minutes’ sun exposure per day as enough to secrete the necessary quantity of vitamin D, particularly beneficial for combating tiredness and stress, and boosting vitality. However, that probably seems a bit on the miserly side when it comes to getting a tan.
Once again, sport is the ideal source of maximum benefit for your organs. But if you’re more the lazing-around than the running-around-in-trainers type, don’t worry: Cultural activities aren’t bad either.
Bora-Bora or Boresville-near-home?
Does a luxury holiday on a paradise island on the other side of the world make you happier than a week in the countryside an hour from home? In fact, it’s the quality of the experience that counts the most. The pleasure you feel during a break lies in the contact you have with new people, the time you have for yourself that you struggle to find the rest of the year which is freed up when you’re on holiday, and the experiences outside of your daily routine.
The most important thing is to take time out and think of yourself. Paying attention to the quality of each moment is essential for happy holidays, particularly on the first and last days, if Elizabeth Dunn, a researcher at the University of British Columbia, is to be believed. In her book Happy Money: the Science of Happier Spending, published in 2013, the author shows that the very first and very last days of the holiday are the ones that leave the biggest impact on our memory. The first days are about letting go and the countdown to the last day makes us want to make the very most of the final days.
Maintain sleep regularity
A final piece of information, if you are thinking of making up for sleep debt by having a lie-in every day, you’re heading up a blind alley. An American study, published in 2015 in the journal Brain, Behaviour and Immunity, shows that maintaining a regular pattern for bedtimes and wake-up times not only promotes better rest but makes it less difficult when it comes to returning to work. What you could do is have one or two 20-minute naps during the day. Much more beneficial.
In conclusion, maintaining sleep regularity and preferring quality to quantity guarantees restful holidays that really recharge your batteries. Time to get those suitcases out!