Why Taking a Vacation is Good For Brain Health

In our modern work culture, it’s common to romanticize “the hustle” and embrace overworking. People often discuss their over-packed schedules and lack of days off as if they are a badge of honor. Partaking in this type of work culture may feel helpful to us in some ways, by providing a bonding experience with fellow workers or helping us to feel competent. However, overworking can have consequences for our brains and overall health. Let’s look at why taking a vacation is so good for our brain health, and why it’s so beneficial to maintain a work/life balance.

vacation brain health

The overworked brain

Burnout and stress

Feeling burnout and stress when you’re overworking is very normal. High levels of stress can impact our cognitive functioning. Over time, consistent feelings of stress can cause a decrease in grey matter, affecting the structure of our brains. This can have impacts on executive function skills and social cognition skills. It may become challenging to make decisions, inhibit undesirable behaviors, or regulate emotions.

Decreased performance

Our brains have limitations. When they’re saturated with information and tasks, they can start to miss things. Our attention skills, memory, and executive function skills may suffer if we’re overworking our brains. 

Imagine that you’re focusing on several major tasks in your work day, with deadlines quickly approaching. Then, you’re called into a last-minute meeting. Chances are, you won’t be able to pay attention or function in that meeting as well as you would if your brain wasn’t saturated with other tasks.

The brain benefits of vacation

Enhance cognitive function

When we’re constantly immersed in our work and daily routines, it’s easy to get stuck in a mental rut. Taking a vacation disrupts our patterns and encourages new ways of thinking. On vacation, we are likely to exercise our cognitive skills in new ways. Planning a trip uses our executive function skills. Taking in our unfamiliar surroundings requires our attention skills. And navigating a town we’ve never been to before exercises our visual-spatial abilities.

We stimulate our brains by stepping outside of our comfort zones and exposing ourselves to new environments and cultures. Immersing ourselves in novel experiences can inspire fresh perspectives and innovative ways of thinking. Whether it’s exploring a new city, trying new activities, or simply allowing our minds to wander, vacations offer a fertile ground for learning, problem-solving, and stimulating our cognitive functions.

Exercise the DMN

When we aren’t focused on processing external information as we are during the workday, we may get to use part of our cognition called the Default Mode Network or DMN. The DMN is active when we do something calming or mindless without distraction, like walking on a beach, observing an art piece in a quiet museum, or eating a meal alone. An active DMN has been linked to creative thinking, enhanced encoding of memories, and a strong sense of self.

Mental health benefits

We’ve mentioned how stress can affect our cognitive skills, but it can also have huge impacts on our mental health. Feeling overwhelmed and stressed out too often can lead to depression and anxiety. Taking a vacation gives the brain a break from the overwhelm so that we are able to re-center and experience joy and relaxation. A break from our usual obligations may allow our brains to release dopamine and other “feel-good” neurotransmitters, leading to an elevated mood and an improved overall emotional state.

Additionally, vacations provide an opportunity to reconnect with loved ones, strengthen relationships, and create lasting memories. These social interactions and positive experiences trigger the release of oxytocin, a hormone associated with bonding and happiness. Ultimately, vacations can contribute to higher levels of life satisfaction and an enhanced sense of well-being.

It’s all about balance

Overworking isn’t good for our brains, but neither is doing nothing! Ideally, our brains should be challenged but not too overworked. The challenges involved in work are often good for our brains. Problem-solving and managing tasks are great exercises for our cognition. But we shouldn’t work our brains to the point where they can’t function properly. So, be sure to check in with yourself throughout the year. Taking breaks is important for our cognitive health.

Vacation may not appeal to some people because when they imagine vacation, they picture doing nothing on a beach all day. However, this doesn’t have to be the case! You get to choose your adventure. If laying on the beach feels like what your brain and overall health need – go for it! But vacations can be challenging and interesting if you want them to be. Try booking an educational tour, exploring museums, or learning a new skill. Rest is good for the brain, but so is providing it with new and interesting stimuli.


In the quest for success and productivity, we often overlook the importance of taking regular vacations. However, the scientific evidence is clear: taking a vacation is not only enjoyable but also essential for our brain health and overall well-being. By reducing stress, enhancing cognitive function, and allowing us to self-reflect, vacations provide a multitude of benefits that extend far beyond the time spent away from work. Work is important, but so is taking breaks! Just remember to maintain a balance whenever you can.

Aly Castle

Aly is HappyNeuron Pro’s Content Specialist. She is passionate about mental health and well-being and loves utilizing her design background to share important cognitive information clearly and understandably.

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