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Danger Signs You Need a Vacation ASAP, Say Psychologists

We could all use a break. But if any of these sound familiar, you may need one more than most people.

Good news for those of us who are desperately longing to be tourists again: The complex and tangled world of international travel is starting to show signs of life. The European Union is beginning to ease restrictions for vaccinated Americans, the White House is said to be mulling changes to its current restrictions on people coming to the United States, and just last week "non-essential international travel" resumed in the United Kingdom after months of some of the planet's strictest COVID-19 lockdowns.

But while many of us may long for a sunny and lazy getaway, some of us actually need one. If you're waking up every morning in pain, if you're blithely turning in less-than-adequate reports at work, and if you're a former fitness enthusiast who just never seems to have the energy to sweat anymore, you may require a reset. We asked scores of doctors, psychologists, and mental health experts for the signs that you need a getaway, and below are some of their answers.

So read on, and relax. And know that even if you're not traveling tomorrow, simply booking a vacation could give you a nice mood boost, as research has shown that looking forward to a vacation actually brings you more sustained joy and happiness than actually going on one. For more on that, read about Why Science Says You Should Book a Vacation Now.

You Wake Up with Splitting Headaches

Woman with temperature staying home wrapped in scarf and drinking hot tea.

"Experiencing physical pain indicates that it's time to book that vacation, as this means the stress is taking a toll on your body," says Ray Sadoun, a London-based mental health and addiction recovery specialist at OK Rehab, a mental health treatment provider. "For example, if you frequently wake up with headaches, you may be grinding your teeth in your sleep as a result of stress. Some time away from work will allow your body to heal itself without distractions." And for more ways to boost your mood, make sure you're aware of The One Mental Health Trick That Can Actually Make You Miserable, Say Experts.

You're Spending More Money Than You Normally Would

woman on computer

"If you find that you are spending more money, shopping more, engaging in gambling or other types of 'escape behaviors,' be aware that you are seeking higher levels of dopamine to help you cope with the stress and exhaustion," says Mandy Kloppers, BA, BG Dip Psych, a cognitive behavioral therapist based in the UK. "Instead of shopping for things you don't need or losing money gambling—put that money towards a well-earned holiday."

Your Behavior Is Veering Toward "Implosion" or "Explosion"

Thoughtful girl sitting on sill embracing knees looking at window, sad depressed teenager spending time alone at home, young upset pensive woman feeling lonely or frustrated thinking about problems

"We often work with clients that feel overwhelmed with work without necessarily knowing it," explains JF Benoist, a therapist, founder of the addiction treatment center The Exclusive Hawaii, and author of Addicted to the Monkey Mind. "If someone is feeling overwhelmed or over-burdened, they tend to more easily implode or explode. If they implode, they start isolating themselves and not being as engaged as normal. If they explode, they may be more reactive than normal. They may lose their temper faster or say things that seem unlike them."

Ultimately, he says, "When you start noticing your behavior is outside the norm, that's a good sign you may need a break." And for more on mental health, see here for the Totally Crazy Side Effects of Exercising You Didn't Know, Says Science.

You Feel Disassociated with Your Job or Colleagues

zoom call fatigue

"This is one of the major emotional signs that you need to invest your money and time in a vacation," says Amber O'Brien, a dietitian at Miami's Mango Clinic. "Getting frustrated with your colleagues, annoyed from your boss's orders, irritated from customers or clients all indicate that you're not going to work productively unless your body and mind are being refreshed by a vacation."

You're Not As Active in Bed Anymore

Offended woman sitting back to lover looking away avoiding talking

"Many people who are heading towards burnout experience a loss of libido," says Sadoun. "When you are extremely stressed, your body enters into fight-or-flight mode as a defense mechanism. This means any non-essential functions, such as your libido, will be neglected while you deal with the stressful situation. If you relate to this, some time on vacation could help to restore your libido back to its usual level."

You've Gained Weight

Frustrated woman unhappy with weight gain

"If you have been putting on weight recently it may be time for a vacation," says Alex Tauberg DC, CSCS, CCSP, EMR, a sports chiropractor, certified strength and conditioning specialist, and a nationally registered emergency responder. "The past year has been very stressful. With increased stress comes an increased amount of stress hormones. One such hormone is cortisol."

As Tauberg explains, chronic stress will raise your cortisol levels, which impacts your metabolism in insidious ways. "When cortisol rises our metabolism slows but hunger increases," he says. "The hormone is telling our bodies that we need to store energy in order to survive the stressful event. Cortisol can make us more likely to crave calorie-dense foods while at the same time increasing our bodies' ability to store that energy, and so the increased energy we intake is stored as fat. So if you are putting on a lot of weight, it may be an indication that you have been way too stressed."

You're Making Mistakes at Work

Stressed businesswoman rubbing her eyes in the office.

"A bad temper, a lack of focus, and a lethargic body will compel you to make frequent mistakes in your work," says the Mango Clinic's O'Brien. "Making mistakes sometimes is normal, but if you're making a lot of mistakes more frequently, it reflects that you're unable to concentrate on your work and need a break."

You're Avoiding Things You Actually Enjoy

Young smiling woman relaxing and listening to music with headphones

"A sure sign that you need to take a vacation for health purposes is finding yourself avoiding things that usually bring you joy," says OK Rehab's Sadoun. "This could be your favorite pastimes, exercising, watching Netflix, and spending time with family and friends. When you are working too hard, you burn out and no longer have energy for anything outside of work. Going on vacation can help you to remember who you are and what you enjoy outside of work."

Benoist agrees. "Another thing to look for is a break in routine—especially healthy routines," he says. "Say you're used to walking every day or doing yoga a few times a week. If you find yourself avoiding these activities, there may be something deeper going on for you."

You're Self-Medicating

Woman wine

"If you are self-medicating with alcohol, drugs, or something else, you are clearly in a bad enough place that you are willing to sabotage your health," says Sadoun. "This is a clear indicator that you need a break from work. If you choose to take a vacation from your stressful commitments, you may find that you are better able to employ healthy coping mechanisms as opposed to pursuing the dangerous path of addiction." And for more signs you need to change your ways, don't miss the Surprising Habits That Are Rapidly Aging Your Body, Says Science.


William Mayle
William Mayle is a UK-based writer who specializes in science, health, fitness, and other lifestyle topics. Read more about William