Posted in Mental Health, Psychology, Self Help

Vacation Brain

What is it about vacation that changes our mood? What is it about vacation that changes our cognitive processing? What is it about vacation that often will change the overall quality of our lives, relationships and mental wellness?

That is a really good question. And triggers of course, in the back of my mind, the jukebox of my mind. The Jimmy Buffett song Changes in Latitudes Changes in Attitudes plays as I write this post. And a side note here, my favorite line from this tune is “if we couldn’t laugh we would all go insane”. There is something about laughter and the frequency of this magical medicine and vacation time. There seems to be, at least for me, more laughter and joyfulness and happiness when we are on vacation then when we are routinely involved in the daily operation of our lives.

Is it the antidotal or is their research behind it? Its meaning of course our cognitive and emotional processing are healthier when on vacation. And are behavioral responses to our cognitive and emotional processing are more effective.

That’s a good question.

If I were preparing this material for a presentation perhaps I might dig into the research. Since this is a Blog Post on a site dedicated to the opinions of a Frequent Flyer to Hell and Back, I can tell you yes, the brain, the mind are different when on vacation. Our cognitions are different leading to a different set of emotions and ultimately a different set of behaviors used to express are wildly different thoughts and emotional experiences. Our mind and our brain are different because we are experiencing novelty, or something familiar-if you’re one of those individuals who travels did Walt Disney World every year. Novelty and familiarity create a comfort and challenge. Our mind is happy when we can predict and anticipate things. That’s going to the same place for vacation every year drives familiarity which creates a sense of Safety and Security because the mind and the Brain can predict what we’re about to experience. Going to someplace new creates excitement and anticipation because a challenge and Adventure awaits. a

Novelty and familiarity are wonderful things that our mind happy. Just like when we give her pet a new toy to play with. Novelty and familiarity keeps prevents our brain and our mind from focusing on all of the other bullshit of life moments of our life, the routine of our life, that drives unhealthy emotions and ineffective behaviors that ultimately take us off course from a satisfying life.

In fact vacation brain is so popular and so prevalent that some of us look to create those vacation moments in our everyday life. Some people practice mindfulness techniques as they take a five minute vacation and visually to back to that glorious beach on which they sat and felt a sense of comfort and relaxation. Sometimes right after a vacation we recall what we did just a week ago….”last Tuesday I did…” Reminiscing and reliving the joy and the fun they experienced. Reliving the novelty and as the memory flows the brain also gets to experience familiarity. Because the brain and the mind don’t know the difference between real or imagined and recalled we can often experience similar emotional reactions we had in the moment of the vacation and also when reliving it through memory in the drive-in theater located between our ears.

The same powerful cognitive process that throws us for a loop when we’re at work, on the train, running late, and then assuming we’re going to be fired is the same processes that get us excited as we anticipate a great trip and brings back fond memories as we recall a vacation that just recently ended. The brain and the mind are powerful and it is often what we focus on that impacts our overall mental wellness.

Vacation brain helps us focus on things that we enjoy, such as time with family, a less hectic schedule, the most difficult decision of the day: where to eat dinner and what fish to have with our asparagus. It is a glorious thing to focus the mind and the brain on things that generate healthy emotions which ultimately drive effective behaviors that get us what we want, just a little peace and relaxation.

This can be achieved even when we get home. Even when we resume our regularly scheduled life. But it takes work. And when it comes to our own mental wellness and psychological fitness, much like our own physical wellness and fitness, when too much work is involved it becomes less desirable.

Having vacation brain as a part of your everyday life is simply a choice. A choice to use a specific set of skills that help your mind and your brain focus and interpret and create perspectives that you know will always drive healthy or emotions and more effective behaviors.

Is it easy? Oh hell no! Like anything in life good mental wellness and psychological fitness takes dedication, intention, and hard work. You need to find and to develop the unique set of skills that you will use to help you find emotional stability, select behaviors that have a high likelihood of helping you to fill and secure your own needs. When you emotionally regulate and fulfill your needs life is pretty damn good. Just like on vacation.


Counselor, Satirist, Podcaster, Author, Professor, Speaker, Father and Husband

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