There’s a reason why everyone looks forward to their summer holidays so much. Who wouldn’t? A couple of weeks in the sun, the chance to eat different kinds of food, and most importantly, no washing up after your lovely dinner!
But studies have shown that not only are holidays a fun break from the nine-to-five – they can have actually have a positive effect on your mental health and change your brain for the better.
And even if it seems as if people who are struggling at work or alternatively, have no work at all shouldn’t really just take a break from it all but instead work harder or put more hours into looking for that job, it turns out that having a holiday makes you come back to a less than ideal work situation renewed and ready to be much more effective. Holidays, it seems, increase your confidence and make you feel much more positive about just about everything for at least six months afterwards.
The importance of the sun itself in the holiday can’t be overestimated. Exposing your skin to a little sunshine each day (and we’re talking as little as 10 minutes a day, no need to go for a full on sunburn) stimulates your body to produce vitamin D, which many of us Brits are surprisingly short on. You can get vitamin D from fortified margarine, breakfast cereals or oily fish, but the simplest way is a drop of sun. Even a small drop in vitamin D can cause you to feel weak and tired, which in turn can have a huge impact on your mental health – if you feel too exhausted to work or socialise you may well start feeling a bit down in the dumps about it all. It’s no wonder that coming back from a holiday gives many people that all round healthy glow.
Not only that but sunshine really helps people with SAD. Seasonal Affective Disorder occurs in a significant number of British adults, and is thought to be related to our cloudy weather and short winter days. Those who suffer from it may find that their sleep hormone, Melatonin, goes into overdrive, making them feel more sleepy, and conversely their serotonin, the “Happiness hormone” gets lower. Finally their circadian rhythm, which governs the times we wake and sleep goes a little crazy too. All of these changes are affected by sunlight hitting the back of the eye, and in winter time this sometimes doesn’t happen often enough for people to feel quite themselves. A short holiday to a sunny destination can help with all that.
And finally, planning to go on holiday and actually being in a new place can improve your cognitive function (brain power!) by stimulating it. Learning a new language in preparation for a visit to a new country helps you to feel proud of yourself and your abilities, and practicing it on the spot can give you a real pleasure when you find yourself able to make yourself understood. Even trying new things, such as different foods or learning your way around a new location, be it Spain, Portugal or Thailand can light up the same areas of your brain. And of course, physical activities such as water sports can really release those happy endorphins.