Are You Working Yourself to Death?

Overworked man

Before you plan to work through Memorial Day weekend, ask yourself this: Did you use all of your vacation days last year? If you’re like most Americans, probably not. According to Expedia’s Vacation Deprivation survey, Americans got a measly 14 vacation days last year and took only 12 of them, compared to our French and Spanish counterparts who used all 30 of the vacation days given to them.

“Unlike European countries, many Americans believe that our jobs are our identities,” says Joe Robinson, author of Don’t Miss Your Life and Work to Live. “Believing that you are your job performance is what keeps you from taking time off.”

If you’re considering going into the office during the next holiday, you’re not doing your boss any favors, either. In fact, leaving unused vacation days can lower productivity by increasing the likelihood you’ll burnout. Repeat after us: “I am not my job,” and then use these four reasons as added incentives for why you should boycott the office on Memorial Day.

1. You’ll be less anxious

 A heavy workload can make you feel like you don’t have a lot of control, and that can leave you depressed. When you’re feeling down or overwhelmed, you’re apt to have lower levels of the feel-good brain neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin.  But when you take time off, these neurotransmitters are likely to rise because you feel more in control of your schedule, and you’re probably doing something pleasurable—like firing up the grill for the Memorial Day barbecue or chilling on the beach. Feeling in control and doing things that are fun—as opposed to kissing your boss’s butt—are automatic mood elevators.

2. You’ll improve your heart health 

Men who take regular vacations are 32 percent less likely to die of heart attacks, and 21 percent less likely to die early. Encourage your wife or girlfriend to skip the office, too: Women who go on vacation have a 50 percent lower risk of heart attack, finds the Framingham Heart Study.

3. You slash your risk of getting sick 

Carving out time off keeps you balanced, says Robinson. Stress squashes your immune system and has been shown to increase your odds of suffering from adrenal dysfunction, headaches, and irritable bowel syndrome, Robinson adds. Exercise is another immune booster, so get a double health whammy by fitting in a weight lifting or cycling session on your day off.

4. It’ll keep you looking and feeling young

Working too much without taking vacation to help our bodies recharge can elevate levels of chronic stress so much that it can actually speed up the aging process by triggering our bodies to release more cortisol. A study in Biological Psychiatry shows that people who are severely stressed have shorter telomeres—the outermost part of the chromosome that gets shorter as we grow older. Cortisol is known as the “stress hormone” that gets released in stressful situations to give you a surge of energy to react when you need to (such as moving fast if you’re about to be hit by a car). However, it becomes unhealthy (and may contribute to aging) when long-term stress signals the body to keep releasing cortisol and wears down your body, such as the daily grind at the offices.


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