I have just returned from a long trip in Australia – just over 4 weeks off work, and the longest break in over 30 years. On returning, the most common question people ask is “do you feel re-energised”? Apart from the obvious pleasures and benefits of a long holiday in the sunshine over one of the wettest British winters on record (what’s not to like?) – it made me reflect on whether a 4 week break provides any more replenishment of energy than a 1 week break? Especially if the 4 week break has 11 hours of jet lag associated with it and a manically hectic work schedule immediately upon return.

The analogy of the iPhone battery came to mind – an iPhone battery (much to our frustration) has a limited capacity and lasts longest if you use its reservoir of stored energy wisely. But intensive use, even over a short period of time, will drain the battery very much faster and no amount of recharging, no matter for how long or how often, will allow the phone to exceed its inbuilt capacity. I ensure that my iPhone battery never runs down by using it in short bursts, with frequent brief re-charging in between. In this way the phone can keep going for weeks without switching itself off.

So in answer to the question from all my friends and colleagues: yes, of course I felt re-energised; sure I feel very lucky indeed to have had the long break, and certainly I felt that I was better able to cope with a subsequent 60 hour week immediately upon return. However, at the end of that week the impact of those 60 hours put my energy stock back to zero and the effects of a 4 week break had all but disappeared – but for a stack of wonderful family memories which I will treasure for many years. That, of course, makes the whole trip more than worth it . Therefore, my (unscientific) conclusion from this is that as far as sustaining energy is concerned, little and often is probably more beneficial when it comes to holidays if you want to maximise the benefits of a holiday. Break yourself back in gradually and don’t assume that just because you have had a long holiday, you have more stored energy than a short one.

In terms of regaining some perspective on work and life, however, now that is when 4 weeks really pays off. So when the energy levels do start to subside, a new perspective certainly helps to restore them. So perhaps that should be your next question.

by Dr. Jenny King