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`VACATION ANXIETY’ PROBLEM IS SPREADING

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Vacation-phobes are easy to spot: While everyone else around the pool is sipping daiquiris and smoothing on sunscreen, they are bolt upright in their lounge chair and clinging to a cellular phone.

Or you spy them in a drugstore in Thailand begging for a 2-week-old copy of the Wall Street Journal. They're also the ones you don't see because they're back at the office sitting on a nest egg (or, for them, a time bomb) of 37 weeks of accumulated vacation.The problem of vacation anxiety seems to be spreading.

Club Med, the ubiquitous resort, has installed fax machines at all of its so-called "villages." The Med is also now offering a "long weekend" package to accommodate the "busy professional," instead of the mandatory seven-day minimum.

A San Francisco stress management specialist is saying that the now-common hesitancy to take a vacation can be a health concern. So, if you're feeling guilty for having taken the Fourth of July off and turning it into a long weekend, think again.

"We live in a very fast-paced world," says Jane Shannahan, director of social services at San Francisco's Children's Hospital. "It's essential to allow the body to recuperate and the mind to reflect."

The stressed-for-success execs in the 30-to-40 age bracket aren't the only ones who suffer from vacation reluctance. And not all relaxation phobia is caused by the guilt-ridden, identity-crisis-provoking terror of leaving the job for a week or two.

Some of this epidemic fear to take a vacation is based in reality. The fact is, the potential for vacation disaster is awesome. No one but the naive, the ill-informed and the desperate jump to fill out that next week's time card, "on vacation."

First to consider: the vacation price tag, especially if you are, as they say, "traveling with children."

While many restaurants offer children's plates and the rest, other eateries employ waitresses who shamelessly tempt youngsters with expensive dishes of fried jumbo shrimp and $5 banana splits. Of course, there are children who need very little prompting in this area. The only thing worse than an all-out family war is an all-out family war in a restaurant.

Another thing many parents realize: Kids don't go for cheap hotels without swimming pools. And children appear to have an inborn need for souvenirs.

"Perhaps we need to rethink what is meant by vacation - it may not mean getting on a train or a bus or a plane," says Shannahan, who runs stress management seminars sponsored by the hospital. "Maybe we can stay home and do the things we don't get a chance to do. We can catch up on sleep and rest."

An alternative to hanging around the house or park for two weeks, or checking into the Highway Robbery Hotel, is staying with extended family or staying with soon-to-be-former friends. Shannahan warns, however, that the family visit can engender "sky-high expectations for an idyllic reunion of loved ones." The reality can fall short.

"I try to encourage people to take several short vacations if possible," says Shannahan. "That way, if the vacation is horrible in February, you can still look forward to getting away in June. Another thing, if you plan to spend your only vacation all year with extended family and you find visits with extended family stressful, you might want to reconsider."

The idea that vacations can put pressure on marital (or whatever) relationships is no news. Everybody has a sister who likes to shop and a brother-in-law who would rather surf; an uncle who likes early-morning games of golf and an aunt who likes dancing until the wee hours; a co-worker who likes scuba-diving and her boyfriend who doesn't know how to swim. The problem is that different people have different "vacation ideas," says Shannahan.

A selection of solutions for the problem of opposing vacation concepts includes: bribery, wild displays of emotion, blackmail and separate vacations.

Shannahan also notes, "The normal state of relaxation varies from individual to individual. Some people might find outdoor work relaxing and someone else might find lying on a beach tremendously relaxing. The idea is to compromise: `We'll do what you want to do today. And we'll do what I want to do to tomorrow."'