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Britons Embrace ‘Sunshine Saturday’ as Expert Unveils Why a Holiday is a Brain Necessity – And the Ideal Frequency Per Year

In anticipation of Sunshine Saturday (6 January), the most sought-after day for holiday bookings, an expert explains why our brain doesn’t just desire but genuinely ‘needs’ a vacation.

TV psychotherapist Anna Williamson reveals that researching and confirming holidays positively alters our brain chemistry.

Anna, a 42-year-old from Hertfordshire, also delves into why shorter breaks may trump longer vacations and identifies when our mind and body begin to truly unwind during a trip.

A pressing question she addresses is the number of holidays required annually for optimal rest.

“I would say we don’t just want a holiday… we need it,” Anna remarks, in her collaboration with TUI.

“Post-December celebrations, there’s often a hormone crash. Our brain chemistry, once heightened by joy, yearns for another oxytocin and dopamine surge – the brain’s reward, comfort, and love hormones. This yearning drives the January holiday booking spree, creating the Sunshine Saturday trend,” she explains.

Studies demonstrate that ‘braincations’ facilitate neurotransmitter release, enhancing mood, alleviating stress, and boosting cognitive function. Holidays also aid in creative thinking and have long-term benefits for the nervous system, helping in recovery from conditions like strokes and enhancing heart health.

TUI’s research indicates that most Britons start their holiday search on New Year’s Day, with about 37% likely to book a summer holiday during this period. The average adult spends around 53 hours to discover their ideal vacation.

What then is the ideal number of holidays per year? Anna explains: “No specific duration is necessary for maintaining health, but taking at least two holidays a year is a realistic goal for many. Regular breaks every couple of months, even short ones, are vital to prevent anxiety, stress, fatigue, and illness. Some studies also suggest that several short breaks can be more beneficial than one long annual trip.”

The choice between a weekend city break and a longer beach holiday is subjective, but there are interesting factors to consider.

“Research shows that it takes three days into a holiday for most to feel fully rested. However, for longer holidays, eight days may be optimal. But the stress of an annual long holiday can sometimes negate the relaxation it aims to provide,” Anna notes.

The act of planning a trip also has a positive impact on the brain. “Browsing holiday deals triggers our brain’s reward mechanism, leading to dopamine production and sensations similar to those experienced during enjoyable activities,” Anna adds.

Previous studies by TUI show that Brits reach their ‘peak’ holiday feeling 43 hours into a trip, but this sensation diminishes about 3.7 days after unpacking. More than 20% book their next holiday within a month of returning.

TUI anticipates this year’s January sales to surpass those of January 2022 and pre-pandemic January 2020.

Holidays are known to improve sleep patterns, with effects lasting up to two weeks after returning home. The activities done during a holiday also affect the level of restfulness afterwards.

“Trying new things during a holiday, like the first pool swim, gives the brain a ‘novelty’ boost. Practising meditation on a trip can also extend the ‘holiday high’,” says Anna.

Anna advises: “Clarify what you wish to achieve from your holiday, whether it’s relaxation or adventure. Choosing a compatible travel partner is crucial. Ensure to balance enjoyment with some exercise, mindful eating, and hydration. Daily walks are essential for vitamin D and physical health.”

Anna herself prefers regular breaks in line with her family’s “freelance lifestyle”. “Family holidays are a favourite of ours, and we aim for four trips a year. I also organise couple retreats and trips with my mum and friends. Holidays are critical for distancing ourselves from daily stress and fostering connection and communication,” she concludes.

After booking, 65% feel ‘excited’, 35% ‘satisfied’, and 34% more cheerful. Popular choices include European beach holidays for varying durations.

Phillip Iveson, TUI UK & I’s commercial director, says: “The post-Christmas period sees a surge in holiday bookings. With our extensive range of deals, we’re prepared to accommodate a variety of travel preferences this year.”

FACT BOX: TOP NINE REASONS FOR BOOKING A SUMMER HOLIDAY NOW

  1. To have something to look forward to (44%)
  2. It’s exciting looking for somewhere to go (33%)
  3. I think it’s cheaper to book then (25%)
  4. It helps get me/us through the most miserable part of the year (23%)
  5. I feel we physically and emotionally need a holiday (22%)
  6. Always book a summer holiday after Christmas (20%)
  7. We have to book them off work before other people get that time off 12%)
  8. We are exhausted after Christmas and booking a holiday gives us a buzz (12%)
  9. We’re both off work so it’s easier to find the time to look around (11%)
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