Many of the readers of this article will be about to or have already started their vacation. !! Congratulations!! They not only deserve them, but, surely, they also need them to rest. Because according to various reports, more than 70% of employees experience prolonged stress and feel overworked.
And it is that who has not felt at work that feeling that their heart races, their hands sweat, they breathe harder and their senses are sharpened. These are typical reactions to a threatening situation. They are generated by the part of our nervous system known as the sympathetic system .
This network of neurons, which extends practically throughout our body, prepares us mainly through the release of two neurotransmitters: adrenaline and norepinephrine , to respond effectively to these dangers.
Avoid stress on vacation
These mechanisms that evolution shaped to allow us to succeed in the face of, for example, a predator attack, now also kick in when we see our boss approaching, mail accumulates in our inbox, or we are required to finish tasks for yesterday.
Initially, it wouldn’t have to be bad. This rush of adrenaline, in a timely manner, helps us wake up, focus on our task and be more effective.
But as in almost everything, the little likes, the much tires. And in order not to reach dangerous situations, evolution resulted in the parasympathetic nervous system, which acts as a brake on the effects generated by the sympathetic system.
Two systems that complement each other
Unlike the sympathetic, the parasympathetic nervous system generally uses a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine that causes, among other actions, a decrease in heart rate or contraction of the pupil, returning us to a state of relaxation.
Under normal conditions, these two systems work in harmony; when one increases, the other compensates for it and vice versa. Unfortunately, when we are subjected to prolonged stress situations, maintaining constant alertness and its regulation is very expensive and produces changes at different levels in our body that lead to extreme fatigue, anxiety or , in the worst case, depression.
Rest on vacation
However, some people will also have had the feeling of needing a period to recover from the holidays. In our vacations, therefore, it is very important to avoid continuing to accumulate stressful situations so that they are really effective. Traffic jams, arguing about what to do or being in a hurry all the time because we want to do a lot of things are situations that do not help our parasympathetic system to restore balance. Of course, another crucial aspect is not to get hooked on our work, for example waiting for the mail.
What can we do to find out if our vacations have put the parasympathetic nervous system to work to regulate our stress levels? There is a simple test that can give us a small indication.
If while we control our pulsation we take a breath of air and hold it, our sympathetic system should cause the pulsation to increase. If the vacation has fulfilled its role and helped to get rid of stress, then when you take a breath, the parasympathetic nervous system should come to the rescue and immediately return the heart rate to normal levels.
Enjoy leisure time
Our brain releases dopamine when we do things we like, creating that feeling of satisfaction. Dopamine regulates our motivation and plays a crucial role in our well-being, so doing activities that we enjoy helps reduce stress and makes us return to work with charged batteries.
So what do you need to do to have a wonderful vacation? Most likely, there is no one perfect recipe that will work for everyone, since everyone has personal tastes.
For this reason, an important aspect is to have “selfish” moments in which we put our own well-being before that of those who accompany us. And so that we don’t put our hands to our heads with the selfish thing, we are going to qualify it.
Most of us spend (and enjoy) our vacations in a group, be it with our families, friends or as a couple. But as we have said before, the tastes of each one are very personal and this means that, despite getting along well with our companions, discrepancies appear in what one or the other wants to do.
And what is the result? Well, many times we are dragged to do things that do not really stimulate our dopaminergic system. In addition, in some cases, when the lack of harmony in the group increases, it can transform what was initially going to be a well-deserved rest into a stressful situation that does not help us.
Although we often try to find activities that we all like, studies focused on family vacations show that the moments that are most enjoyed are those in which all the members of the group have a good time, even if this means not being all together doing those activities.
So, just as we recommend to our readers, we too are going to take a break to kick start our parasympathetic nervous system and recharge our energy by boosting our dopamine. Happy Holidays!
Author Bios: Juan Perez Fernandez is the Ramón y Cajal Researcher, CINBIO at the University of Vigo and Roberto de la Torre Martinez is a Researcher at the Department of Neurosciences at the Karolinska Institutet