January 12, 2018
2 min read

Frequent business travel linked to poorer mental health outcomes

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Researchers found that people who travel for business 21 nights or more per month are more likely to report symptoms of anxiety and depression, trouble sleeping, smoking and alcohol dependence than those who travel 1 to 6 nights.

"There is a growing literature showing that extensive business travel is associated with risk of chronic diseases associated with lifestyle factors," Andrew Rundle, DrPH, associate professor of epidemiology at Colombia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, said in a press release. "The field of occupational travel medicine needs to expand beyond its current focus on infectious disease, cardiovascular disease risks, violence and injury to bring more focus to the behavioral and mental health consequences of business travel."

To determine the relationship between business travel and mental health outcomes, researchers conducted cross-sectional data analyses on 18,328 employees who underwent a health assessment in 2015 provided by EHE International. Employees completed an online health history form as part of these assessments that asked about how many nights they spent away from home on business, smoking status, alcohol consumption, exercise/physical activity and how well they sleep. Researchers then categorized participants into five groups based on the extent of business travel: zero nights away from home, 1 to 6 nights, 7 to 13 nights, 14 to 20 nights and 21 or more nights.

The results showed that higher levels of business travel were linked with poorer mental health outcomes. In comparison with employees who traveled for work between 1 and 6 nights per month, those who traveled for 21 or more nights per month were more likely to smoke (prevalence ratio [PR] = 3.74; 95% CI, 2.56-5.46), have trouble sleeping (PR = 1.37; 95% CI, 1.09-1.71), be sedentary (PR = 1.95; 95% CI, 1.56-2.43), and show symptoms of alcohol dependence (PR = 2.04; 95% CI, 1.26-3.29), anxiety (PR = 1.69; 95% CI, 1.29-2.21) and depression (PR = 2.27; 95% CI, 1.7-3.03). These poor mental and behavioral health outcomes significantly increased as the number of nights away on business increased.

“Traveling for work 14 or more nights away from home is associated with a cluster of mental health conditions, including greater symptoms of anxiety and depression, poor sleep and a higher likelihood of alcohol dependence. Business travel at this level is also associated with smoking and sedentary lifestyles,” Rundle told Healio Psychiatry.

These findings further support the suggestion that new approaches to improve employee health during business trips are needed, Rundle and colleagues wrote in the study. The authors suggest that businesses offer employees who travel often for work accommodations with physical activity facilities and healthy food options, training in sleep hygiene and stress management techniques such as mindful meditation or yoga, and health apps to help maintain health goals on the road like fitness trackers and fitness apps with exercise routines that can be completed in limited space.

"At the individual-level, employees who travel extensively need to take responsibility for the decisions they make around diet, exercise, alcohol consumption and sleep. However, to do this, employees will likely need support in the form of education, training and a corporate culture that emphasizes healthy business travel,” Rundle said in the release.

Disclosures: Rundle reports serving on the Life Extension Research Institute board supported by EHE International, Inc. and on EHE International’s Medical Advisory Board. Please see the study for other authors’ relevant financial disclosures.