Neurosurgery and Brain Health How Vacations Benefit the Brain By Neurosurgery, July 19, 2015 Looking for the perfect vacation spot to refresh and de-stress? Wondering what will be a better escape: a weekend in the woods or a month in a metropolis? It turns out that either vacation can be equally therapeutic with lasting physical and mental health benefits, if planned correctly. Planning a Stress-Free Vacation A vacation should be enjoyable and relaxing, so plan based on what, not where. For example, if you’re afraid of flying, choose a road trip destination. Or, depending on your situation, maybe you need to go somewhere with a pet-friendly hotel. Take preemptive measures to limit the potential stressors on your trip by planning and booking ahead. This will allow you some peace of mind and the downtime to make the most of your vacation. While there’s no outright best spot to vacation, studies show that immersion in a different culture with some familiar facets will spike creativity because it offers engagement without feelings of displacement. For this reason, Europe is regarded as an excellent vacation spot for Americans because there are similarities between the cultures and languages. Visitors feel comfortable and the setting is just different enough to hold their attention. Vacations to areas with more varied cultures, like Asia, may come with culture shock and lead to stressful feelings of disconnect. Weary travelers may want to exercise caution when choosing a vacation destination. Visit the Beach for a Sense of Calm A safe bet is to head to sea. In a recent study, Marine biologist Wallace J. Nichols shares the benefits of vacationing near a body of water, saying that it triggers our “blue mind” which is a state of “calm, peacefulness, unity, and a sense of general happiness and satisfaction with life in the moment.” A lake or ocean landscape provides a simplified visual and auditory experience, compared to a city street or room. This functions as a mental vacation, and the physical activity of swimming with others can lead to feelings of unity and emotional openness. Even small interactions with water, like taking a shower or watching a fountain, show signs of increasing creativity and energy. Benefits of a Vacation Don’t dread returning to work after a vacation; it turns out that a few days away might put you behind on work but ahead of the game. The mental health benefits are endless – those who take vacations claim to have increased creativity and inspiration. A relaxing vacation will also decrease stress levels, improve emotional health and lend an enhanced perspective that you can apply to your work. A good vacation reaps physical benefits, including lowered blood pressure and reduced stress hormones. Returning to work well-rested and with a fresh mentality will help you take missed assignments in stride. The benefits of a vacation are long-lasting and will improve everything from your work to social life; so go ahead, request off and prepare your travel plans.