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Practicing what we preach: The importance of leisure and recreation for those who study, teach and work in health

Posted by Kimberley Woodford on April 4, 2024 in Inside Dal Health, News, School of Health and Human Performance
Kimberley Woodford is the Therapeutic Recreation program director for the School of Health and Human Performance (Bruce Bottomley photo)
Kimberley Woodford is the Therapeutic Recreation program director for the School of Health and Human Performance (Bruce Bottomley photo)

One of the key focus areas of the Faculty of Health’s strategic plan is Be the Best Place to Work. Under that focus area, one of the goals is to proactively support faculty and staff to take 100% of their vacation time. With this in mind, we asked Kimberley Woodford for her tips on making rest and relaxation a priority to support our health and wellness.

Kimberley is a certified therapeutic recreation specialist, instructor, and the Therapeutic Recreation program director for the School of Health and Human Performance.


Stress and academia, two words which unfortunately seem intertwined within post-secondary institutions, making it difficult at times to know where one’s work and non-work lives begin and end. Let’s face it, the pandemic has not made it easier to disconnect from work.

As we know, prolonged stress can have a significant impact in living a healthy and happy life. Within leisure studies, there is a growing body of literature that explores how the things we decide to do for enjoyment can be effective in managing and counteracting the negative impacts of stress. Leisure can help one to relax and rejuvenate, to have choice to be free to decide what we like, and increases positive mood (Chen et al., 2022; Hutching et al., 2008; Iwasaki et al., 2005).

Our workplace provides each of us with set time to take off and leave work behind. Vacation time gives us the opportunity to restore, relax and to do things we love to do with the people we love to do them with. So, what stops us? Fear? The feeling of never-ending work? I myself have been guilty of not using all my vacation time within a year, or when on vacation checking and responding to emails although an out of office message is set or sneaking in some virtual meetings from a hotel room with a blurred background. And, this is all my own doing – help!

Why do we continue to perpetuate the idea (perhaps a misconception) that if we disconnect from work for a week or two, it will be of detriment to the workplace? We exist in an institution filled with competent people - things will not crumble if we decide to take time off. We must have a culture and mind shift to remember that taking care of ourselves makes our work life much more enjoyable and valued. We are also part of the Faculty of Health and we do need to practice what we would preach to others. As caring health professionals, what advice would we give another who seemed to spend most of their time working and did not utilize their vacation? Seems simple, however it is easier said than done.

How do we do this?

If taking two weeks at a time is outside of your comfort zone, start small. Set some realistic boundaries, such as not responding to emails during evening or weekends; take one or two days off at a time. Studies have shown that even taking short vacations and disconnecting from work for four or five days are effective in improving employee health and wellbeing, both psychologically and physically (Bloom et al, 2011).

Don’t wait six months to plan for time off. You can also plan to incorporate vacations during the workday — ‘mini’ or ‘five-minute’ vacations. These are concepts we teach and do with our therapeutic recreation students. Five-minute vacations are different than that of a break as one will set intentions to fully disconnect and be present – to provide a rest for your central nervous system that may have been in overdrive with meetings and deadlines.

Imagine a break without the temptation of responding to electronic notifications coming in from email or work chats, sitting with colleagues for lunch and not talking about work, not creating a ‘to do’ list in your head. Engaging in five minutes of a pleasurable activity throughout your day, like rocking out to a favourite tune in your office, watching adorable and funny video clips of cats and dogs, mindful eating of the cookies you made with your kids. Activities like these have so many restorative functions and increase positivity as well as productivity.

Working in health care and human services, we spend our day investing energy into others, and therefore it is important to ‘refill our cups’ when not at work.  We are better problem-solvers, better colleagues, better at managing stress when we have filled our cups.

I am personally looking forward to taking planned time off after this busy term (and long winter) and booked an actual vacation in which I will disconnect and not attend virtual meetings while my partner waits on the beach!