If you are one of those folks who feel guilty about taking the time off of work to travel, this is your reminder that all humans can benefit from time away from work and the busy activities of daily life, time to unplug and revive the senses.
Research finds that participation in vacation and leisure activities predicts better health outcomes, including: lower blood pressure, cortisol levels, and body mass index, as well as lower levels of depression and negative emotions, and a higher incidence of positive psychological states . One study, examining middle-aged men at risk for coronary heart disease over the course of 9 years, found that those who took more vacations lived longer on average than those who did not take vacation . Some numbers suggest that those who take more vacation hours might even be more likely to get promotions compared to those who take less vacation hours.
It is highly unnatural for humans to sustain the pace of modern life, with its many incoming daily stressors, like emails and streaming news, paired with relatively insufficient outlets for physical activity and stress relief . There is even a movement, known as rewilding, to return to ancestral ways of interacting with and relating to the natural environment. Rewilding is best known as a concept applied to conservation biology to restore wilderness areas on Earth. Rewilding can also be applied to personal life, by intentionally designing lifestyles to cultivate a deeper relationship with the environment and our own biological rhythms.
I recently took a week to explore some natural landscapes of Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana; including The Grand Tetons and Yellowstone National Park. The raw beauty of these lands has been better captured by the likes of John Muir and Ansel Adams. However, I will say that I was still amazed by the diverse, opulent, and vivid colors, shapes, and textures of these lands. Of course, my breath was taken away by the unfathomable intensity of the geothermal activity that underlies the superficial level of the earth. Being able to see the bubbling, steaming, and alive waters of Yellowstone was deeply humbling. My favorite experience, however, was the slow, simple afternoon excursions to the warm rivers where many people and animals came to fish, drink, and be revived by the waters. I relished in the feeling of the fertile mud on my bare feet, the water that drenched my dress, and the never-ending sound of the river always moving, alive and in flux.
Coming home, I experienced a heightened awareness of the many stimuli frenetically pulling my attention in multiple directions. Immediately, I encountered a flood of media. I felt overwhelmed, even by the pleasant stimuli. For example, I heard multiple new songs on my first day back home. New music is now made readily available to us at any time, courtesy of streaming music services. But, it was almost too much! Each song was so rich, worthy of my full presence and multiple listenings; but at this pace, I almost felt unable to fully appreciate any of it. Too soon, I came back to a computer screen with multiple tabs open, reminding me of birthday presents I want to purchase for friends and family, yoga poses I would like to incorporate in my classes, and psychological research that I need to read through.
This all felt especially abrupt after having accommodated to the much slower pace of nature. Even just after a few days, I felt the impression of those hours in my body: the warmth of my skin still retaining the memory of the bright sun, the smell of fire in my hair, the shiver of the breeze moving through my spine. In these wild places, we are only required to be aware of what is most important for each given moment.
In my day-to-day life, in this crazy modern world, I sometimes find myself unable to fully shake the habit of worry, sometimes obsessing about the next days (or months or years) to come. When I find myself too immersed in this realm of worry, it is usually an indication that my body and mind require a reunion with the wilderness, a sense of deep grounding in what is real, what is here and available for me to hold, feel, smell, taste, and hear.
We all need a break from the chaotic world of work and modern life. We all need wild spaces.
1. Pressman, S. D., Matthews, K. A., Cohen, S., Martire, L. M., Scheier, M., Baum, A., & Schulz, R. (2009). Association of enjoyable leisure activities with psychological and physical well-being. Psychosomatic Medicine, 71(7), 725.
2. Gump, B. B., & Matthews, K. A. (2000). Are vacations good for your health? The 9-year mortality experience after the multiple risk factor intervention trial. Psychosomatic Medicine, 62(5), 608-612.
3. Sapolsky, Robert. Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers: An Updated Guide to Stress, Stress-Related Disease and Coping. W H Freeman and Co.: 1998.