Vacation: A Necessary Prescription for a Healthy Life

This week, I embark on a vacation – my first – in more than two years. That seems rather sad, right? It’s certainly not healthy; I’ll admit that freely. But come on, admit it…I’m not alone. Per the U.S. Travel Association, Americans collectively did not use 662 million vacation days in 2016. More than half of all working people in the United States forfeited paid time off at the end of the year.  Self-employed people suffer the worst — if they aren’t working, they are actually losing money. The process of vacating must be a prescription then, as surely as any other, for our health.

Look it up in the dictionary:

“late 14c., ‘freedom from obligations, leisure, release’ from Old French vacacion and directly from Latin vacationem: ‘leisure, freedom, exemption, a being free from duty, immunity earned by service.’

“Meanings ‘state of being unoccupied,’ ‘process of vacating’ in English are early 15c. meaning ‘formal suspension of activity, time in which there is an intermission of usual employment’ (schools, courts, etc.) is recorded from mid-15c.”

bicycling on the beach under a palm tree

Historically, recreational travel – i.e. vacation – was a luxury that only the wealthy could afford. This sometimes took the form of the Grand Tour, which for British tourists usually began in Dover, England, and included luxurious stops in Ostend, the Netherlands or Belgium, Calais or Le Havre, France. Other highlights included trips across the Alps…A huge vacation even by today’s standards (lederhosen optional).


Puritans in early America didn’t tend to take breaks for reasons other than weekly observances of the Sabbath, and in fact, breaks were frowned upon. It’s easy to see our society has held onto this attitude at least in some respect – we don’t travel like we should!


One reason Europeans seem so much healthier than us? They actually use their vacation – or as they call it, holiday. Most employers give employees 4-6 weeks per year of said holiday. Now keep in mind, tax rates over there near 50% and gas prices are $5/per LITER (or roughly $10/gallon). So, don’t get too jealous just yet.


We can still mimic the healthy benefits of vacation that the Europeans have perfected.


Vacation is a prescription for health


Vacation Can Reduce Stress

As a physician, I feel perfectly guilty taking a vacation – and that is something I have to clear out of my own head. I have patients who get very upset I would ever think to be off when it’s their turn to come into the office. Before and after I leave, I bust my toochie to get things cleaned up.  I have to find coverage at three different hospitals. Plus, I have to do all the usual pre-trip mom things: pack the kids, find a dog sitter, make sure everyone’s paperwork is in order. I know many women feel the same way – you almost wonder if taking a vacation is even worth it!


But think about this: Getting AWAY and having down time is akin to meditation. It resets you by breaking your stress cycle. I know that self-care is important to the parasympathetic system (the same system promoted in yoga classes). In addition to the normal rest and relaxation benefits (decreased cortisol anyone?), immersing yourself in new experiences and cultures can promote better family bonding and increased feelings of overall well-being. So, taking a much-deserved holiday will promote better sleep, digestion, and mental health? Um, who couldn’t use some of that mindset medicine?


At the risk of upsetting some, I am vastly opposed to the idea of a “staycation.” That’s like trying to craft your own Robitussin at home. When I’ve tried that – I ended up reorganizing the pantry, sock drawer, and weeding. Hardly a ‘-cation’ by any stretch.

I prescribe that every woman should take four different “doses” of vacations:

  • Family: Even the most disconnected of families benefit from time away together. And I know, family vacations can be stressful (and expensive). If you look at places like Disney World or other “theme parks” the stress seems to outweigh any potential benefits of the vacation. But in fact, science shows the reverse.
  • Friends: A girls’ (or boys’) weekend now and then can rejuvenate your childhood jubilance and sense of mischievousness. Many find it hard to justify leaving their family and work for something like a girls’ weekend. But I find it highly valuable. Think of rejoining your sisterhood in a tribal setting. Frankly, you get benefits from your sister tribe that you just don’t get from anyone else.
  • Couples: This one frequently suffers when there are children involved. In addition to work guilt, mom guilt gets involved as well. Strengthening your relationship will only strengthen the core family unit. And it’s good for kids to see how parents take care of themselves and their relationship. You’re being a better role model for them.
  • Personal: The hardest – preferably by yourself. Solitude. Checking in with the person that matters the most to you… This feels so self-indulgent. I went to a writer’s retreat by myself this April, and boy was it regenerating. I enjoyed reveling in my thoughts and bettering me. I came back with lowered blood pressure and a renewed sense of passion about nearly everything!


Vacation is Easier than You Think!

Vacation increases wellness

Worried about cost? Who isn’t! I found several small weekend retreats that were very reasonably priced – these would be outstanding. Outside North Texas, near Sherman, is a meditation retreat that is incredibly priced. Worried about time? I suggest that even a WEEKEND (or for shift workers a couple of days) for yourself – scheduled, planned at the beginning of the year. You can also start your “vacation year” now!

Most Americans have about two weeks of vacation time. Try breaking it down like this: plan two 5-day holidays with the family and your partner. Then that leaves two long weekends for your friends and yourself. The following year, mix it up and reverse it.

Did I mention that my first vacation alone with my husband in SEVEN years (since the birth of our first child) is happening in 6 days? I suffered from a terrible case of getaway guilt and an appalling shortage of self-care. My cure is to make a conscious effort to follow the above dosing schedule, because I believe it will positively impact my mindset, and thus my health.

So, plan four distinct vacations, get a good dose of some Vitamin “V” …and call me in the morning.

Yoga For Stress Relief

Frequently we hear about the benefits of yoga for stress relief. But why does yoga have such a reputation? Although yoga practitioners have known for thousands of years that the practice gives deep health benefits, the science world has been studying the physiological processes that are affected by yoga, supporting claims that it’s truly a stress-reliever.

Fight or Flight
“All stress – whether a screaming toddler or being chased by lions – triggers the body’s stress hormones,” explains Dr. Heather Bartos, of be. Women’s Health & Wellness. “This is nature’s survival mechanism, which is why we commonly call it the “fight or flight response.”

The stress response begins in the emotional part of the brain. A message gets sent to the center that controls functions such as breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure. The “fight or flight’ side provides a burst of energy to avoid that oncoming tiger.  The body then activates the brain and adrenals, which helps to keep the stress response moving. Experience enough stress, and cortisol—the stress hormone—is released continuously.

Rest and Digest
When the perceived threat passes, cortisol levels fall, bringing the body back down to the “rest and digest” state where it can recover and go about normal bodily functions. “The less perceived stress the body feels, the better it can perform its functions that keep us alive, including regulation of blood pressure, sugar levels, and hormone levels…preventing daily “wear and tear” on the body,” says Dr. Bartos.

Chronic Stress Prevents Restoration
Chronic low-level stress keeps the “fight or flight” activated, which can contribute to health problems including persistent surges in epinephrine that can damage blood vessels; increased blood pressure and risk of heart attack or stroke. Chronically elevated cortisol can lead to buildup of fat tissue, weight gain, and eventually chronic exhaustion.

Yoga Helps Improve the Stress Response
Yoga requires the body to go into both the sympathetic “fight or flight” mode (hold a  warrior pose for two minutes–your legs feel like they will collapse, your heart rate climbs) as well as the renewing parasympathetic “rest and digest” mode where the body readjusts and comes back to calm (you take a meditative forward bend on the floor, the heart rate lowers, and breathing returns to normal). Dr. Bartos clarifies, “All yoga poses are considered restorative in some fashion, simply due to the varied benefits of doing them; stretching and strengthening your body; improving breathing; inverting the body to help with lymph drainage; hormone regulation; immune system strengthening, and the list goes on.”  If you are looking for the optimum mind-body workout—this one’s for you.

Heather Bartos MD owns be. Women’s Health & Wellness, which offers ob/gyn services as well as aesthetics and wellness and yoga classes in the clinic.  Evening classes are now available! Class schedules are online at 

3 Restorative Poses

  1. Reclining Cobbler’s Pose
    Your prop should be firm, not squishy (a stack of three or four firm blankets folded to the width of about 12 inches, or a yoga bolster; add another blanket as a pillow). Sit just in front of the support. Once you lay back, if the low back isn’t happy, move the prop a few inches away from the back and settle back in.
  2. Supported Child’s Pose
    Use a stack of 3 or 4 blankets folded to about 12 inches wide (make the prop higher if you are not comfortable at this height). Kneel on the floor, and make the legs wide enough to pull the blanket stack all the way to the inner thighs. Lean forward, getting as much of your tummy on the prop as possible, so your entire upper body is supported. Allow the seat to sink down toward the heels. Rest the arms wherever they are comfortable.
  3. Legs Up the Wall
    Caution: If you are menstruating or have high intra-ocular pressure, don’t do “Legs Up the Wall”.
    This one can be a bit awkward to get into, but it’s totally worth it! Set the 3-4 blanket stack about 5 inches from the wall. Once you’re settled in, the blanket stack should be helping to open your chest/heart area up and outward. The legs can be in a variety of positions; to keep them up the wall, use just enough leg muscle to keep them from bending.