I’m back from vacation this week, and I feel good! I spent nine days in California, checking out vineyards, tasting some really good wines, and touring the beaches and bays of the Pacific coast. I feel refreshed and energized, and for good reason: rest is good for you.
As a practitioner of Chinese medicine, I assess how well each patient is managing the balance between rest and work. Many struggle with working long hours; some put in as many as 70 to 80 hours a week. In addition, many of my patients, and American workers in general, don’t take the vacation days they have earned. According to Time Magazine, workers leave on the table about 429 million days in unused vacation time per year! And many workers don’t even take a week of vacation at a time–they will go for a long weekend or a day here or there. In addition, almost half of service workers get no paid time off. The bottom line is that many workers are not getting the break they need.
My gut reaction is to put this kind of information into the context of Chinese medicine, and I immediately think of Qi (pronounced chee), which is something akin to your body’s vital energy. It’s responsible for all the functions in your body, like warming your core, digesting your food, enabling your muscles to move and your brain to think. In order to be healthy, Qi has two requirements: It must be abundant, and it must flow freely.
At the most basic level, working too hard or too long without a break depletes your energy…uh, Qi. Whether it’s long stressful hours at your desk or hard physical labor, overworking is considered a common cause of disease in Chinese medicine. No matter how much you love your job or how indispensable you think you are, working too much can wipe you out.
In addition, long stressful hours at the grindstone can cause your Qi to stagnate. Like a car’s engine that begins to seize up, stagnation means that things just don’t move well–your digestion gets funky, you don’t sleep well, and your family begins to kindly describe you as irritable. Frequently my patients who are struggling with this kind of stagnation will describe themselves as feeling stuck or in a rut.
The point is that in order to be healthy and feel balanced, you need to balance the cycle of work with rest. Just like an athlete that needs to recover after a hard workout, we all need time to rejuvenate after long stints of work. And what better way to do that than taking some earned vacation time? Whether you hit the road or stay at home, time away from your place of work allows you to rest, recover and refresh your mind. Furthermore, the old adage that movement creates more movement means that a change of routine, scenery, or experience helps to unseize your engine and allows your Qi to flow. It’s that sense of movement or change that allows you to become unstuck.
So take the vacation time owed to you. Leave your desk or place of work, do something different and fun, and don’t think about your job for a full week, or even two. Your health depends on it.