De Graaf is an independent documentary producer from Seattle and the author of the documentary Affluenza. He also edited the book, Take Back Your Time. He is a frequent speaker on issues of over consumption and overwork in America.
Take Back Your Time Day, October 24, is a project of the Center for Religion, Ethics and Social Policy of Cornell University. In this annual observance, people are encouraged to either take the day off or carve out some time for themselves, preferably spent with friends in congenial surroundings. According to the project, useful and creative work is essential to happiness; however, American life has gotten way out of balance. Producing and consuming more have become the single-minded obsession of the American economy, while other values -- strong families and communities, good health and a clean environment, active citizenship and social justice, time for nature and the soul -- are increasingly neglected.
Take Back Your Time is a U.S./Canadian initiative to challenge the epidemic of the overwork, over-scheduling and time famine that now threatens our health, our families and relationships, our communities and our environment.
Why do you think vacations are so important?
The evidence is clear: vacations matter for health, family connections and productivity. Doctors recognize the connection between vacation starvation and heart attacks, high blood pressure, stress and depression. Studies show the risk of these ailments can double or more for people who don’t regularly vacation. Americans are twice as likely to suffer from chronic illnesses as Europeans, who get a minimum of four weeks off each year.
Vacations are also powerful family bonders: Dr. Bill Doherty of the University of Minnesota says they are among the experiences most remembered when children grow up. Dr. Leaf van Boven of Cornell University has done studies showing that vacations bring more joy and satisfaction than material products. Finally, numerous companies have found that vacations are a boost to employees’ productivity. An Air New Zealand study found reaction times 30-40% faster after a two week break.
What health benefits do people gain from taking vacation?
The rest and relaxation provided by vacations certainly reduces the risk of heart attack, and provides a major de-stressor, but the vacation must be for a block of time—one week at a minimum. Longer vacations provide even more stress relief. Attitude is also improved; people are less likely to suffer from depression and this affects their overall health. Connection with friends and family on vacations is also a health booster.
What tips do you have for getting and staying relaxed on vacation?
Well, certainly you need to carve out a block of time and it really does help to “get away” and travel, even for a short distance, because spending vacation time at home provides little chance to get out of the routine and the pressures that are constantly nearby, the temptation to “run into work just for a minute” etc. Travel increases bonding and often romance for people.
It’s also a good idea to keep electronic connections to a minimum. Try if you can to avoid email and cell phones and the electronic tether to the office—constant connection with work is a stressor. This doesn’t mean no one should ever check an email on vacation—sometimes it helps to know there are no emergencies going on. But you can “vacation better” by keeping such ties to a minimum while on vacation. I’m not aware of any differences between vacations where people do a lot of sightseeing and road-tripping and those where they simply stay in one place—at the beach for example. This seems to depend on personal choice. But it is important to get away, keep electronic connection to a minimum and vacation in a way that feels non-stressful.