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You're only hurting yourself by not taking your vacation time

After all, it's given to you for a reason.

You're only hurting yourself by not taking your vacation time

Whether your idea of a fantastic vacation is a cruise, a drive with the kids through the Grand Canyon or a week at home tackling those garden projects you’ve been planning, chances are, you won’t take full advantage of it. Most Americans don’t, and that’s a shame.

A vacation, even if you’re staying home, is a great way to rest and recharge so you can give your employer your full focus and attention when you return. It’s also one of the ways your employer shows appreciation. It’s a relatively inexpensive benefit to offer and by not taking it, you’re eschewing their effort to do something nice for you.

Time off is essential for good health

“Vacation provides a crucial opportunity to recharge, refresh, refocus and rejuvenate,” says Maura Thomas, author and productivity and time management expert. “Studies show that vacation is good for your weight and your cardiovascular health, that it lowers your cortisol levels and your blood pressure, and may aid in recovery from diseases such as cancer.”

A 9-year-study from the State University of New York at Oswego showed that men who did not take at least a week’s vacation had a 30 percent greater chance of dying of heart disease, says Patricia Thompson, president of Silver Lining Psychology, a business consulting and coaching service.

Time off is good for more than just your physical health: It does wonders for mental health also. Thomas says it’s important to get away from work every once in a while to change your perspective and boost creativity and clarity. This comes not only from breaking mental focus away from work, but also through a change of scenery or environment.

Fully unplug if you can

Many people, though not physically tethered to an office, are still connected constantly through devices. Emails come to tablets and phones at all hours, and people are reachable through voice or text on phones or computers, even if they’re not working. The result, Thomas says, is “a ‘spinning’ brain that keeps you awake at night trying to get everything done and manage all the details of your busy life.” This is not ideal because you only have so much bandwidth in there. Once those reserves of creativity and focus are depleted, you have to recharge.

The office will survive without you

Thompson says many people don't take vacation time for fear that their absence will create too much of a burden on others. She cautions against this approach. If you’ve worked diligently to train others in your duties, you should be able to leave and be confident that your team will handle things. If your presence is absolutely required, however, and the staff couldn’t function without you, “that should alert you that you may not have been doing an optimal job of leading. Armed with that information, you [should] make development and coaching a higher priority when you return from your trip,” she says.