We just returned from a 10-day trip to one of the most beautiful places on earth, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. After a 5 hour non-stop flight we arrived in this well-known Pacific resort. Passport control and customs officials were very fast, kind and efficient. Then came a short ride to our gorgeous hotel.
Why do we want to go on vacation? Why do people plan often for weeks and months to go to a different place? Why do they save money to be able to later spend a lot just to get to a different place?
Because we want to feel better.
That is probably the quintessence of all the reasons to go on a vacation, spent the time and spend the money. We have often pointed out that just about 80% of all of our problems and issues in life are caused by stress. So if we feel better on a vacation it must be that it helps us get rid of stress. It must help us to reduce stress quite a lot.
How does that work? What are the secrets?
Secret Number One - Emotional Triggers
Stress is an emotional thing. We often talk about it in rational terms. We often try to explain it logically. But that doesn’t really get to the key point. Stress is caused in the “emotional brain,” also called the mammalian brain or limbic system. That part of the brain is subconscious. In the only conscious part of our brain, the “thinking brain,” neocortex or new brain, we notice the stress reaction through negative thoughts.
Therefore, with slight stresses we feel a bit anxious, irritable, suspicious or just restless. With heavy stresses we may feel fear, anger and aggression, even rage, and are ready to spring into reactive action at any moment.
These stress reactions are triggered by some external stimulus which our emotional brain doesn’t like. It perceives something which it judges to be threatening to our well-being and survival.
So here is the secret number one why we have less stress on vacation: we select places and situations which have few if any stress triggers.
Secret Number Two - Positive Expectations
Expectations have an interesting effect on our emotional brain. They work like colored glasses. If we have positive expectations it is like we put on some pink colored glasses. With that positive bias, our emotional brain will look for anything which supports this bias. It will look for anything which is pleasant and positive and ignore negatives. And each time it finds something which fits the positive mold it will further strengthen this “virtuous cycle.”
Secret Number Three - Pleasant Sensory Experiences
Our emotional brain reacts to sensory inputs: sight, sound, taste, smell and touch. If these sensory inputs are judged pleasant and comfortable, then the emotional brain will send pleasant emotions to our awareness in the neocortex, our new brain. That is just the opposite of any stress reaction. It is calming and relaxing.
One of the most powerful sensory experiences is beauty. Beauty has a direct and immediate effect on our emotional brain. It bypasses any logic. We just experience it. We feel it. Art critics may later explain beauty in many logical terms, but that’s beside the point. Beauty directly calms us and floods us with good feelings.
That’s why we pick beautiful spots to go on vacation. That’s why you put beautiful things in your home. You know that you will feel better – because your stress is reduced. That’s why companies put art and beautiful things in offices and work spaces. They know that employees will feel better which results in better work, quality and productivity.
Secret Number Four – Exciting Activities
Our emotional brain likes an alternation between periods of rest and periods of activity. Therefore we automatically and spontaneously will do things on vacations which are a bit different and unusual.
These new and adventurous activities create positive memories in our brain which can last for a long time. Those fun and exciting memories will do a lot to reduce past stresses and prevent new ones when we get back home into our regular routine.
So now you know! Now you have a strong neuroscience underpinning to take a great vacation!
Best wishes for a wonderful stress reducing vacation.
Your relaxed stress analyst,
Fred George Sauer
PS: remember, your emotional brain gets nearly as excited and happy when you think about a past beautiful vacation or think about planning a new one. Just thinking about the 4 secrets discussed above will put your already in a great mood!
> Trials and Travails 2: Trials and Travails
Fritz George Sauer Founder of SciStress
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