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Why are Vacations Stressful?

Folly Beach, SC
Folly Beach, SC

I spend so much of my waking (and resting) life fine-tuning this thinking machine atop my shoulders. Yet I’ve some how decided the “idle mode” switch was taking up too much cerebral space that could be used for some other logic/processing module. How I perceive vacation is partially a symptom of my culture. According to one survey, American employees only use 51% of their eligible vacation time each year.

My Yearly Vacation

Rightly or wrongly I cache up several days of vacation so that I can take a block of time off. For the past several years, Gillie and I drive down to Folly Beach, SC and spend a week with friends. During those years, we’ve created traditions of things we do, places we visit, and restaurants we patronize. Gillie and I will often, almost by instinct, start thinking about what things we must do and could do a few months ahead of time.

There’s a magic combination of several factors:

  • Spending time with friends I only see once a year
  • Getting away from my usual life and scenery for a whole week
  • Being at the beach surrounded by amazing fresh seafood
  • Having feelings of saudade considering I grew up in South Carolina

The Stress of Time Away

It seems like when you take a week off, you get only the middle portion to really get into your vacation. The tails are spent dealing with logistics like travel, packing, planning, and adjusting to new surroundings. Then there’s the wonderful feeling of coming back to a full inbox of stuff that didn’t also go on vacation while you were away.

As I alluded to in the first paragraph, my brain feels the need to be “on” even when it’s supposed to be recharging. Vacation is so precious and special that I want to squeeze every ounce of goodness out of it (i.e., optimizing for maximum output). Here are some examples of said optimization:

  • Maximizing time at the beach or in the ocean
  • Minimizing the amount of time spent doing things I could do back home
  • Maximizing the amount of low country cooking as I can comfortably ingest

Several posts I’ve read on the subject at least affirm that this feeling is not unusual. This general concept of taking a break from things seems to be amplified when on vacation.

  • Should I take several days off exercise while on vacation, or work in some activities that will keep me from losing ground, considering I can really feel a difference when I don’t do something physical on a regular basis?
  • Should I try to stick to a healthy diet, or take advantage of the delicious foods that are best where I’m vacationing? (See the previous point about losing ground (i.e., gaining weight) when it comes to food; the more time off from exercise, the slower my metabolism seems to get.)

Is it Worth Stressing Over?

I also recently discovered Fredkin’s paradox, wherein the closer two choices are in value, the more time we spend trying to choose; yet we receive negligible benefits from the extra work spent for finding the best decision.

So in short, it doesn’t really matter in the long run what I do. Maybe this view is nihilistic, but it could allow me to stop focusing so much mental effort into making the best use of every second during my down-time. Deep breaths and maybe some simple meditation exercises could also prove useful.

If you have some suggestions, I’d love to hear them. Please leave a comment below if you feel so inclined.

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