You know that free, happy feeling you get when you’re on vacation? That feeling is becoming more and more fleeting for Americans as our daily lives and work routines become increasingly complex.
We know what the vacation effect feels like, but we haven’t really figured out how to bring that positive feeling into our everyday lives at home.
That’s about to change.
The vacation effect long-term
A new study has shown that we can carry the relaxation-promoting “vacation effect” with us in our everyday lives after we return from pleasurable trips.
This study helped the researchers understand that people do tend to experience a change in stress levels, immune function, and biological markers when they’re vacationing, and more importantly, that those changes can be made longer lasting with a few purposeful behavior tweaks.
In this study, researchers compared people visiting a meditation retreat with those who came to the same destination, but had unlimited free time rather than structured meditation. They looked at stress regulation, immune function, and cellular markers in the bloodstream in all participants. What they found was quite interesting.
The vacation effect in practice
While both groups relaxed in the same location, the meditation group didn’t show any more significant effects than the non-meditation group. It seems like the relaxing environment alone is enough to trigger these biologically meaningful changes, according to the authors of the study.
After the first part of the study, the researchers followed the participants once they returned home. Again, they measured stress regulation, immune function, gene activity, and cellular markers in the bloodstream.
And this time, they realized something important: The vacation effect appears to be able to transition into daily life at home, providing useful relaxation and stress-relieving benefits.
What became apparent was that all the participants – meditation and non-meditation – showed an immediate “vacation effect” upon returning home, with reduced stress levels, noticeable changes in stress levels, and the presence of certain cellular markers in the blood.
Bringing the vacation effect home
The vacation effect lasted the longest for study participants who attended the meditation retreat and continued meditating at home – a full 10 months of the vacation effect being observed in these individuals.
“Vacation in a relaxing, resort-like environment takes you away from your day-to-day grind, which may be high stress in which your body is in a more defensive-like posture, with pressures to meet deadlines, dealing with angry customers, ‘battling’ with colleagues for resources to accomplish your mission or whatever. On a relaxing vacation you allow your body to get out of that defensive posture, reduce your levels of stress which in turn affects the states of cells that are involved in your immune system.”
– Dr. Eric Schadt, study author, founding director of the Icahn Institute for Genomics and Multiscale Biology at Mount Sinai
So how can you apply these findings to your own life? Meditation certainly seems to be effective, but the study authors aren’t sure whether that’s due to the nature of meditation or the retreat’s curriculum and environment.
To carry the vacation effect home with you, try meditating while on vacation to improve your perception of the trip itself and bring the practice home with you, remembering your favorite moments and scenes from the vacation as you meditate. Need help getting started with meditation? Check out this blog post for all the basics of meditation.