The Mental Health Benefits of Having a Holiday to Look Forward To
Over the course of the last year, we have seen the engagements in our calendars rescheduled and eventually shelved indefinitely. From small everyday events like a cup of coffee with a friend or a trip to the gym to international events such as the Olympics, our routines came to a halt in an indiscriminatory way – nobody has been free from the effects of the pandemic. Given the frequently changing lockdowns and tiers, it’s easy to see how our perception of time has completely changed. It has meant many of us do not know where the virus year/s have gone. It is hugely down to the fact we separate time with distinguishing occasions – ‘the summer my son had his graduation’ or ‘it was the year we went to Dubai’… Without occasions, one day merely leans into the next, and the next, forming no memories.
On a slightly more optimist note, whether COVID-19 entered our lives or not, there are so many mental health and wellness benefits of having a holiday to look forward to which include:
The power of anticipation
The power of anticipation is intrinsically related to happiness, it is part of basic human psychology which is demonstrated throughout our lives and how we lead them – we plan. We plan to go to school for a good career, a good career for a nice home, time away from that home as a treat… We often do not realise the extent to which we persevere through tough times or even the daily routines by our expectations of the future. It keeps up going and motivates us. If everything happened at once, we would be utterly overwhelmed, therefore, we need those moments of celebration, markers of accomplishments or just time to decompress and focus on our wellness.
Samuel Johnson, a prominent 18th-century writer pointed out that much of life’s joy is wrapped up in expectation, looking forward to a new adventure. Since our canonical author, many psychological researchers have proved this notion to be true, including a study in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology which found that the experience of looking forward to events, such as a holiday, “is integral to good physical and mental health.” They showed that “anticipating a positive event is sufficient to induce a positive emotional state and to facilitate a more adaptive cognitive response.”
The power of anticipation and its benefits for our minds and bodies is a beautiful and rewarding reason to book the ultimate holiday to kickstart that excitement! Pushed even further, on a more holistic level, anticipation is fundamental to our wellness as it can act as a stepping stone to hope.
The power of a change
Research conducted by scientists from the Icahn School of Medicine, University of California and Harvard shows that just six days away triggers genetic changes which dampens stress, boosts the immune system and lowers levels of proteins linked to dementia and depression, as documented in this Telegraph article. Sometimes, we all need a change of scenery, to experience something different to revaluate. When we experience a different setting, free from the pressures of modern life, it allows us to reflect and refocus. A wellness holiday is the perfect way to accomplish this, as you will not only have the change in location, but a completely different culture to immerse yourself in but you will also have access to a bespoke programme comprising spa, fitness and wellbeing activities that will engage and stimulate the senses.
It is only when you are engaged in something else that you can put daily stresses out of your mind and in turn truly relax, mindfulness is a natural event when we’re away but a dedicated mindfulness retreat could transform your life. Knowing that we have time to recover ahead of us, helps us overcome difficulties, it keeps our morals elevated and relieves stress, even before we’ve arrived at our chosen destination!
It is proven that future positive events elicit more positive emotion than past positive events, meaning that we enjoy anticipation more than memories. The study concluded that the "benefits of a vacation are physical as well as psychological, and can last for a month after returning home." Therefore, most importantly, the mental health benefits to looking forward to a holiday are completely conducive to a healthier lifestyle from the moment you book to long beyond your return home.
The positive impact on our health
Lastly, but certainly not least, the benefits of a holiday to look forward to affect the way we think of our health, which has the greatest impact on our mental well-being. When we know we will be heading off for a beach retreat, a winter break or a fitness holiday it reinvigorates us to think about our relationship to exercise and nutrition. Thinking of that summer clothing, ski suit, or beating our personal bests the last time we enjoyed a getaway reminds us of our goals. With busy lives, it can be easy to let our personal goals such as health and fitness fall by the wayside but booking a holiday returns them to the forefront of our minds.
Research by Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi in 2000 established that well-being is the central construct in positive psychology. Therefore, exercise and diet are not only important for physical health but for a positive mindset, inspiring a holistically balanced lifestyle. A balanced lifestyle is a huge goal so we must also remember to take everything one step at a time. If we try to conquer any ambition in one go, it can seem so daunting that it puts us off and we give up. However, breaking it down into bitesize pieces makes any opportunity, goal, or challenge much more achievable and even enjoyable. That is why little milestones deserve much more recognition than we give them credit for, we should highlight each step of our journeys. A holiday is a wonderful way to celebrate, let your world slow down for a moment, before getting back to it, fully recovered and ready to keep conquering!
There are so many mental health benefits to having a holiday to look forward to, not only for the pure relaxation and enjoyment, but psychologically and physically. From the power of anticipation to freeing our minds with a change of scenery, to refocusing on our wellness aspirations overall. It is proven to make us happier, relieve stress, it serves as a coping mechanism, besides anticipation being an integral part of human psychology leading to hope. It is time to reclaim your narrative!