Stressed Workers Enjoy Vacation More

Vacations can have a positive as well as negative effect on a person’s health. The researchers in this study looked for aspects of a vacation that might help predict what effect it will have on the vacationer. One hundred and ninety one participants answered a questionnaire surveying their typical vacation day, socially and physically, also taking into consideration stress, and how they felt after the vacation. It was found that although warmer weather, workouts, sufficient sleep, and meeting new people were relaxing, there were some health problems caused by the vacation. The authors say, “Health-related vacation outcome is significantly affected by the way an individual organizes his or her vacation.”

Recent health research has focused on vacations, defined by Lounsbury and Hoops as a temporary break from work, which lasts several days to several weeks. The researchers say that taking more vacations is associated with reduced chances of heart attacks and depression. However, they also say that although it temporarily improves mood and burnout symptoms, negative effects such as “leisure sickness” have also been reported. For this study, four physical and mental aspects of a vacation were examined for their effect. Duration, temperature, travel time and jet-lag were the physical aspects. Daily routine, number and time of meals and time to oneself constituted the psychological aspects. Duration of sleep, social contact and exercise were the health-related aspects taken into account, while health problems and arguments with others were the stress-related aspects considered.

* Data was collected from 191 individuals with white-collar jobs. They answered a standard “quality-of-life” questionnaire, within two weeks of their vacation.
* The participants were instructed to rate their current well-being status in comparison with their state two weeks prior to the vacation.
* The participants described daily work-related mental and physical stress before vacationing, and commented on the changes in attention, mental balance, and physical fitness that they felt after the vacation.
* The four aspects of the vacations — physical, psychological, health-related, and stress-related – were statistically analyzed.

* Regardless of the age and sex of the person, those with very stressful everyday lives found vacations the most relaxing.
* Difference in time zones and duration of vacation did not affect relaxation, though warmer temperatures did.
* The number of meals and the amount of time they had to themselves did not affect recuperation, but how the day was organized did. Arguments and conflicts affected relaxation negatively.
* Analysis found a higher recuperation following vacation, among vacationers who engaged in more physical activity, had better sleep quality, and who made new acquaintances.

Shortcomings/Next steps
The participants were asked to assess the change in their mental well-being, comparing the prior to and after the vacation states. It is possible that they assessed their current mental state, and not the change itself. For example, a general good mood may obscure possible negative outcomes. Also, memory errors may have affected their assessments two weeks after the vacation, when they took the survey. A set of more dependable criteria to organize a vacation needs to be established.

An accurate prediction can be made about chances of relaxation based on some aspects of a vacation; however, prediction for exhaustion is possible to a much lesser extent. A vacation seems to markedly increase a sense of well-being among those who experience higher work-related strain. However, the effect of a vacation depends on a variety of occurrences and not merely on the lack of work-related stress. A good amount of sleep and exercise, relaxed planning for the day, pleasant socializing, and soothing and warm weather positively affect the experience and recuperation. Health problems, confrontations with other persons, traveling distances, and time differences have a negative effect on the vacationers.

For More Information:
Effect of Vacation on Health: Moderating Factors of Vacation Outcome
Journal of Travel Medicine, 2005
By Gerhard Strauss-Blasche PhD; Barbara Reithofer
From the Medical University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria

*FYI Living Lab Reports Are Summaries of the Original Research.

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