Here’s What a Universal Summer Break Would Do for Everybody’s Health, Say Experts
We can all agree teachers deserve a months-long rest...but research shows more time off would help many of us live a longer life. We spoke with two experts on how to refresh your health, even if you're part of the majority who continues the workaday grind through summer.
When we all were kids, the last day of the school year seemed to be infused with a certain kind of magic; a palpable energy that buzzed through the soon-to-to-empty classrooms and hallways.
But as grownups, the arrival of summer feels less definitive…and dare we say, maybe even a little bit of a downer? When your daily work and life routine doesn’t come with a pause button, the summer months usually fly by in a flash. For caretakers of kiddos, this period often comes with even greater responsibility than the school year does.
The good news? You don’t have to be a teacher to soak up the benefits of summertime. All you need is a little wisdom from experts that will make this season special, even if summer is serving up limited PTO time for you.
A break don’t just feel good—it is good
As it turns out, simply switching up your daily routine and responsibilities can have a profound impact on your well-being. “One significant benefit of summer break is the opportunity for periods of downtime,” says Dr. Patrick Porter, PhD, a psychologist concentrating on neuroscience and creator of the mental wellness app, BrainTap. “During the academic year or work life, we’re often caught up in a whirlwind of activities, deadlines, and stressors.” Dr. Porter adds: “Summer break offers a chance to step back, relax, and recharge our mental batteries.”
The mental health benefits associated with summer break aren’t just good for your mind. The Mayo Clinic suggests that if you experience seasonal affective disorder, the summer sun and increase in vitamin D exposure may alleviate symptoms associated with the depressive disorder.
And, the Cleveland Clinic says, if your summer routine includes biking, swimming, gardening, or spending more time moving, you’ll benefit from an increase in the “feel-good” chemicals—endorphins and dopamine. More frequent movement produces endorphins which then signal your brain’s reward center to release dopamine. Together, these two neurotransmitters can boost your mood in big ways.
If you need another push to book that plane ticket, research shows vacation may even lead to a longer life (check out the story link above). Dr. Porter says this is due to the overall effect of stress reduction. Since the American Heart Association cites stress as a known contributor to high blood pressure, taking time off from the stressful stimuli of working life—even for just a few days—can help minimize associated risks of heart attack and stroke.
In support of this principle, Dr. Porter cites a study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology in 2010, which investigated the effects of vacations on burnout and work engagement among employees. The study revealed that vacations were associated with significant reductions in burnout and increased levels of work engagement. So don’t hesitate to set that OOO message and remove your employer’s messaging app from your phone for a week.
Does summer break reduce stress?
Because summer break has a tendency to shake up our routines, it can double as a stressful time for some. To best manage expectations, Kate Carmichael, MA, LPC-S, the clinical director of ATX Counseling, recommends taking inventory of your needs ahead of the summer months and consider what you want to have experienced by the time September arrives. “What are your needs, hopes, and wishes?” Carmichael says. “How can you set this time of year apart from the others to get the most out of this season?”
If you’re a parent or a caregiver, the addition of children at home with more downtime can pose a particular challenge during the summer. Carmichael, who has three-year-old twins, stresses the importance of practicing healthy boundaries during the summer to ensure your own needs are met, too. “Making sure I get time to reset allows me to take a much-needed breath and do some things for myself,” she says. “I want to model that taking care of yourself means plenty of time to rest, as well as connecting with special people in your life. Both are key ingredients to a great summer.”
How can summer break habits help our health?
In the same way summer offers a break from the rest of the year, Dr. Porter says that making a practice of incorporating short breaks throughout the day, even as brief as a few minutes, has been shown to have positive effects on mental and physical well-being. Because these breaks allow for us to step away from tasks and lean into a more mindful state, they can help aid in stress reduction and lead to increased focus and productivity.
While taking a break from work or a vacation may not be possible for everyone this summer, Carmichael says there are ways to make the summer memorable. This can empower you to reap the mental health benefits for years to come. “Whether you intend to get some rest, do more reading, take a painting class, or do something special with your kids, it’s a time to do something you can look back on that will distinguish this season of life with fondness,” she says. “The years have a way of rolling by, and it’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day of life. Do something this summer that will make the whole year memorable.”
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Dr. Patrick Porter, PhD Psychologist, Creator and CEO of BrainTap
Kate Carmichael, MA, LPC-S and Clinical Director of ATX Counseling
Harvard School of Public Health: "The Nutrition Source"
Mayo Clinic: "Seasonal Affective Disorder"
- American Heart Association: "Chronic stress can cause heart trouble