We all have stress in our life, and managing it is one of the most important aspects of taking care of yourself, but as a new report by WalletHub emphasizes, stress isn’t just a personal issue — it’s a geographic one, too.
The top three least-stressed states, were Minnesota, Utah and Massachusetts, which fared much better than others when it comes to stress related to money, health and family life.
The top three most-stressed states were Louisiana, Mississippi and Arkansas.
What are these comparatively low stress states like Utah and Minnesota doing differently than others? What might more stressed out regions like Louisana learn from them to improve?
Utah takes work/life balance to the max
Utah has the lowest number of average hours worked per week — but make no mistake, this is hardly a slacker state, and employment is on the rise. As of January, job growth was up by 3.9 percent — more than a percentage point higher than the national 1.9 percent growth rate. The unemployment rate was also better than the national average — at 3.1 versus 4.0.
How does a state with a growing labor market manage to also work the least amount of hours?
“We believe in working hard and playing hard,” Val Hale, executive director of the Utah Governor's Office of Economic Development told NBC News BETTER in an email. “We leave the workplace and volunteer in our communities and churches. We keep our priorities straight and spend our time doing other important things besides work. We also enjoy a state where Mother Nature played favorites — and there’s an outdoor recreational activity available nearly every month of the year.”
Hale adds that many companies incorporate outdoor activities into their conferences and business meetings, a way of “truly [integrating] their personal and professional lives.”
Your Utahan boss appreciates that you have a family to get home to
Balancing work and family can be stressful — but generally not in Utah.
“Utahns don’t sell their soul to the workplace, says Hale. “There is a strong focus on family. In business, most activities occur during the day rather than at night. People respect evening family time in Utah. Many companies in the state have created workplace cultures that prioritize flexibility and support.”
Student debt is lighter in Utah, and tech jobs are booming
Hale notes that Utah was recently ranked number 1 in the best states to raise a family, “in part, because of low college tuition,” he says. “We’re the only state with an average student debt of less than $20,000.”
Not only is the burden of student debt less heavy in Utah, profitable tech jobs are in abundance, so there’s an incentive to stay in the Beehive State after graduation.
“Utah has seen a boom in high-paying tech jobs during the last decade,” says Hale. “Utah’s tech industry accounts for 302,000 Utah jobs and one in every seven dollars of GDP in the state. Silicon Slopes has become an enviable destination. Companies like Adobe, eBay, and others have opened offices in the state. Many companies are starting to be founded here, and companies that have an HQ in another state are expanding their organizations to Utah because of our affordable cost of living and talent pipeline.”
Minnesota’s big businesses keep unemployment low
Like Utah, Minnesota (the least stressed state according to Wallethub’s analysis), has a lower than average unemployment rate, at 3.1 percent as of February. Job growth is less impressive than in Utah — averaging 1.6 percent on a year-over-year basis, but still there is growth.
Shep Harris, mayor of Golden Valley, Minnesota (who ironically, grew up in Louisiana, the most stressed state), finds that this growth is stimulated by the presence of major companies that have their roots in the North Star State.
“Minnesota has been able to hang onto a number of Fortune 500s that have either started here or moved here, like General Mills, Target and Medtronic,” Harris tells NBC News BETTER. “We keep them well. We also have 3M [which specializes] in manufacturing post-it notes and other adhesives, and Pentair which is known for its water filtration systems, along with Tennant Company which is known for its industrial cleaning machines.”
Take it to the lake: Minnesota enjoys nature sports year-round
Where Minnesota truly outshines other states is in the health of its population (the state has the fewest number of adults in poor health, according to WalletHub’s findings). This conclusion was arrived at based on a few factors: obesity rates, share of adults diagnosed with depression, and suicide rate among other indicators.
It’s tough to pinpoint one trait that enables Minnesota to be healthier than other states, but the characteristic that stands out is the state’s extreme dedication to being active in nature, no matter the weather.
“People make fun of our [cold] weather, but we are hearty folks and we love to be outdoors,” says Harris. “We're the land of 10,000-plus lakes and it’s so easy to access them. We go snowshoeing, fishing, kayaking, paddleboarding or we just hang out with our families at the beaches. It’s all just so calm and peaceful.”
Minnesotans are paying those credit card bills on time
Another subcategory where Minnesota comes in number points right at the wallet: Minnesota residents have the best credit scores on national average. A 2018 report by Experian found this to be because, simply, they’re paying their credit card bills on time, a behavior that can be traced to the Minnesota work ethic.
“We have a can-do spirit in tackling [issues] in a deliberate way rather than in a crisis reaction mode,” says Harris. “And we like a good humblebrag. We have what’s called ‘Minnesota nice.’ The joke as Garrison Keillor used to say, ‘all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average’. We pride ourselves on having what is in a sense, a good product for people who want to raise families.”
And part of having a good product, is having it be affordable (so that paying your bills isn’t overwhelming).
“A three-bedroom house here in Golden Valley is about $300k,” says Harris. “For some that sounds like a steal, but we’re actually working on [making more affordable housing] because for some $300k is quite a challenge.”
Louisiana is the most stressed, and we can all help with that
But what of the most stressed states? Why are they feeling so bad?
Here’s where the state of stress becomes so clearly connected to socioeconomic struggles that go well beyond a love of the outdoors.
“Unfortunately in these higher stress states, we see a [socioeconomic status] (SES) issue,” says Kimberly Kelly, clinical health program administrator, College of Liberal Arts & Social Sciences, Department of Psychology at University of North Texas. “These are poorer areas, and in psychology, we know that SES directly relates to physical health and stress.”
For these states, there are uphill battles that simply can’t be solved so easily, but here’s what definitely won’t help: shaming them for being stressed.
"It's no secret that we’re on the bottom of many lists and metrics," says Camille Manning-Broome, president and CEO at Center for Planning Excellence in Louisiana. "Louisiana has been on the frontlines of climate change — especially especially since Hurricanes Katrina and Rita."
Manning-Brome points out that the stress from storms, coastal erosion and being in constant recovery and prevention modes due to these issues drive other stressors.
"Stressors in these areas impact every other network — be it education or healthcare," she says. “But we are proud of our state and relish in our culture. We have an ambitious and remarkable coastal master plan already being implemented — but we’re in a place where we need the nation to support us in adaptation in rebuilding back our land.”
Perhaps, we can take a note from Utah’s volunteerism and the “Minnesota nice” and give some love to the states that need it the most.
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