The Virtue of Fun

funA recent study suggests that some 30% of Americans has trouble relaxing and putting work aside to enjoy vacation – and a handful of us suffer from more acute “leisure sickness” and “weekend headaches” from our attempts at fun.

Reports the Wall Street Journal

Only 53% of working Americans say they come back feeling rested and rejuvenated after vacation, and 30% say they have trouble coping with work stress while they’re away, according to an survey of 1,530. Some try to cram in so much activity that they come back more exhausted than when they left. Others stay so plugged on Blackberrys and cellphones that colleagues and clients don’t even suspect they’re away.

“It’s been my experience that an ‘out of office’ response means nothing anymore,” says Edward T. Creagan, a medical oncologist who writes the Mayo Clinic’s stress blog. “We’re driving ourselves wacko with no time to power down.”

Attempting to relax even makes some people sick. Some 3% of the population suffers from “leisure sickness” when they go on vacation. Symptoms include fatigue, muscle pain, nausea and flu-like symptoms, according to a 2002 study in the Netherlands. And a phenomenon of “weekend headaches” accounts for roughly one-third of all migraines and one-sixth of tension headaches.

Where do you fall? Take the Wall Street Journal’s interactive survey (adapted from the Work Addiction Risk Test – PDF) to see if you are a workaholic.

I scored at 63, making me a mild workaholic. “With acceptance and modifications, you and your loved ones can prevent negative lasting effects,” says psychologist Bryan E. Robinson of my results.

Advice for workaholics includes meditation, exercise and anything to make you more “present.”  As for enjoying vacations, I enjoy the idea of vacations, and enjoying having gone on them, but it’s hard to relax enough to have fun when I’m actually sitting by the pool with that frozen cocktail.

Want more advice? In a Huffington Post piece, Why Fun is a Serious Issue, psychotherapist Thomas Moore argues that we’re all taking ourselves too seriously.

Seriousness without fun is the sign of an exaggerated ego. There’s no room there for a soul. No capacity to see the underlying dramas and theater that make life worth living.

The solution? Laugh a little more. Put relaxing and winding down on your to-do list. Build a buffer between work and play to ease into the evening. (I find cooking dinner to be a great way to ease away from my computer and into my family life.) Pray. Go for an early evening run and grab those last rays of vitamin D. But do it now, while the spring and summer are ahead of us.