Psychology Ph.D. Dissertations


Too Tired to Escape Tiredness: Work Stress Undermines Healthy Leisure Decision-Making

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Advisor

Clare L. Barratt

Second Advisor

Margaret Elizabeth Brooks

Third Advisor

Joseph Furgal (Other)

Fourth Advisor

Scott Highhouse (Committee Member)

Fifth Advisor

Dara Musher-Eizenman (Committee Member)


Scholars have recently noted that work stress paradoxically requires more and predicts less recovery from that stress. As a result, the people who most need to recover from work stress have the most difficulty doing so. This recovery paradox is both practically pressing and theoretically underexplored. The present study aims to clarify the timing of this paradox (i.e., whether it is the result of daily stress, chronic stress, or both), its underlying mechanisms, and potential solutions. Taking an integrated resource theory and decision-making theory approach, the current model positions personal resources (i.e., energy and negative affect) and leisure decision-making as key mechanisms explaining the recovery paradox. The role of chronic work stress and leisure habits in these processes are also explored. Diary data was collected from working adults (N=83 participants) twice per day, after work and before bed, over the course of two work weeks (N=693 survey days). Multilevel analyses did not support the original model focused on the mechanisms of depleted energy, unsystematic leisure decision-making, and low leisure mental and physical activeness; however, an alternative model was supported, connecting work stress to poor recovery via negative affect, unsystematic leisure decision-making, and low leisure diversity (i.e., low variety in types of leisure activities). Leisure diversity and physical activity were identified as strategies that seem to facilitate recovery even, and perhaps especially, for the highly stressed. Overall, the present results suggest that the recovery paradox (a) manifests quickly but is exacerbated by chronic work stress, (b) may be explained by affective and decision-making mechanisms, and (c) may be combatted with diverse and physically active leisure. These findings provide theoretical detail to the recovery paradox, a new and key observation in the work stress recovery literature, and provide practical recommendations for stressed workers who both need to and struggle to effectively recover.