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In recent years, American employees have given up an estimated 200 million vacation days (with benefits worth over $66 billion). The average employee forfeits roughly 46% of his or her paid time off, and roughly 1 in 10 take no vacation time at all.
A 2018 survey by the American Psychiatric Association found nearly 40% of Americans were more anxious than during the same time the previous year. Given the physical and mental health benefits of taking time off work, it's not difficult to see the potential relationship between unused vacation time and spikes in stress and anxiety. Health experts have long held that vacations improve mood, lower stress, boost creativity, and can lower rates of heart disease and depression.
For a closer look, we surveyed over 1,100 people about what makes them stressed and how time away from the office can alleviate that tension. We found that people who hadn't taken a vacation in the last year were 29% more stressed than those who took two or more. Continue reading to see what else we learned.
When asked to rate their stress on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the most stressed, the average American said 4.3 out of 10. The average female millennial rated her stress at 4.8, followed by Gen X women (4.3) and female baby boomers (3.8). Millennials are known as the "most anxious generation," and a combination of lower employment rates and more student loan debt may create greater concern among younger people compared to older generations.
The signs and symptoms of stress often manifest in our physical health. According to the American Institute of Stress (AIS), it's not uncommon to experience back pain, headaches, tremors, muscle spasms, stomach pain, insomnia, or difficulty concentrating as a result of stress. Studies also suggest higher levels of stress may lead to a shorter life span.
While many factors can trigger stress, there's at least one solution for alleviating the pressures of daily life: vacation. However, money was a significant deterrent: Nearly 73% of women and over 63% of men cited a lack of money for why they hadn't gone on as many vacations as they'd like.
According to recent research, money is a top stressor for Americans regardless of the economy. With credit card debt and student loans reaching record highs, it's no wonder financial worries tend to seep into virtually every aspect of our lives.
Most Americans surveyed took between two and three vacations per year, but that isn't always an option if you don't have vacation benefits at work: In fact, 1 in 3 respondents didn't take enough vacations due to a lack of paid time off. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, almost a quarter of Americans don't receive paid vacation days – putting a damper on the number of vacations people take each year.
The average American worker earns 10 paid vacation days per year, yet many people don't fully take advantage of the benefit. However, employees shouldn't let their vacation days go unused.
Interestingly, taking regular breaks from work has been shown to curb feelings of burnout, often rejuvenating people and giving them a new appreciation for their job. In fact, around half of men and women surveyed reported higher levels of productivity after going on vacation.
Around half of all survey participants also took five to nine days on their last vacation, accounting for a large portion, if not all, of the average employee's allotted vacation time.
While many factors can trigger stress, there’s at least one solution for alleviating the pressures of daily life: a vacation.
Studies suggest committing time to vacation can impact virtually as many aspects of everyday life as the symptoms of stress. In fact, getting away can help lower your risk of a heart attack, help you feel more energized, boost happiness, increase relaxation, enhance productivity, and live a longer life. Taking a vacation may be the perfect remedy if you’re feeling overwhelmed at work.
People who hadn’t been on vacation in the past year rated their stress a 5.3 on average – 29% higher than those who took at least one vacation. In comparison, people who went on vacation once in the last year rated their stress a 4.2, and those who went on more than one vacation in the past year rated their stress a 4.1.
Experts suggest there are many reasons travel makes us happier, led perhaps by the opportunity to break away from our well-worn routines to explore new scenery, experience new cultures, and meet new people. Whether you’re traveling 100 miles or 1,000 miles away, seeing more of the world – and learning more about ourselves – can only help boost our mood and make us feel more confident.
No matter what triggers your stress, there’s no denying the impact it has on both your physical and mental wellness. We found financial troubles were the leading cause of stress among those surveyed, and millennials were more likely to be stressed (particularly about their finances) than other generations. However, people who managed to take at least one vacation a year were significantly less likely to be stressed and more likely to identify as happy.
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To collect the data presented above, two surveys were run using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk service. For the first survey (people who had been on at least one vacation in the past year), respondents were made up of 114 baby boomers, 285 Gen Xers, 459 millennials, and 15 people from generations outside those. For the first survey, there were 465 men, 522 women, and two people who chose to identify as neither. For the second survey (people who had not gone on any vacations in the last year), there were 22 baby boomers, 32 Gen Xers, 115 millennials, and one person from a generation outside those. The second survey contained responses from 86 men and 84 women.
To qualify for the first survey, respondents had to have been on at least one vacation in the past year, and to qualify for the second survey, respondents had to have not been on a vacation in the past year. All data presented above rely on self-reporting, which can be host to a number of issues including telescoping and exaggeration. To combat these issues, an attention check was added to ensure respondents paid attention. Regarding the top stressors of respondents, they were asked to choose up to three things that stressed them the most.
Already thinking about sailing away? If you want to inspire your readers to plan and prioritize their next vacation, we welcome you to share the results of our survey and any related copy or graphics for any noncommercial use. Out of respect to our contributors and their work in compiling this data, we simply ask that you include a link back to this page in your article.