Stress Plays Out Differently Depending on Environment


The faster the world appears to spin, the more people are concerned about their stress levels, and rightly so. Currently about 40 percent of U.S. adults get less than the recommended amount of sleep per night (seven to nine hours), and at least 66 percent of all working men and women in the U.S. work more than 40 hours per week. Such realities are unsettling, to say the least. Both of these factors can increase stress, and new research illuminates the fact that depending on the environment people find themselves in, the different ways stress ends up playing out has the potential to surprise.

The Council on Contemporary Families (CCF), a non-profit organization that works to provide the American public with the latest research on the health of families, released a report on Thursday about stress dynamics involving home and the workplace. The data from work circumstances was compared with data from home circumstances, and the findings have been unexpectedly interesting across the board.

CCF discovered that for each group of those studied, spanning a variety of social statuses, levels of stress at work were lower than they were at home. The study also revealed that in most instances, women actually received greater benefit from being at work than men. This was attributed to men not always having as many domestic duties to fulfill as women. Gender roles appear to be leveling out more recently however, and the stress men experience may be changing more visibly in upcoming years.

Beyond how men and women have varying exposure to stress, the fact that it plays out differently depending on the environment people find themselves in is intriguing enough to legitimize further research. Many have speculated that the enjoyable pressure that comes from the use of one’s skills proves to be an encouraging and strengthening force. There are not many activities that people would regard as more fulfilling than being able to wake up every day and dive into what they are passionate about.

In the same vein, stress ultimately has two forms: distress and eustress. Distress is caused by negative circumstances, the results of poor choices, other people who leech energy and deadlines or assignments that are too pressing to handle. Issues like these only pile on weight that can begin as emotional and later create physical health problems. Undergoing an event such as a wedding, getting a promotion or brand new job, being able to buy a car or winning a lottery ticket, on the other hand, would all cause eustress.

Separate types of encounters cause different types of pressure, but they all cause pressure nonetheless. There are an equal number of choices that sprout from getting a divorce as well as from getting married. The study from CCF seems to indicate that working hard, as long as it is not overworking, can be a key component of ensuring that one’s stress levels remain regularly manageable.

Another study from the Dresden University of Technology, and The Max Planck Institute for Cognitive and Brain Sciences, showed that stress levels are truly contagious, and can even be transmitted between people who do not have an interpersonal relationship with each other. This means that outside of individual will, stress is virtually an unstoppable force, which is likely why it can have such forthright, sharp and long-lasting effects.

Tying these studies together shows that when a team is working on a project at the office, they are all likely (on average) to have less stress because they are at work, and because of their lower stress levels they are all able to concentrate and perform more efficiently. An interweaving dynamic like this that arises from modern studies is a testament to the need that most businesses have toward keeping their employees informed on holistic health.

In a world that is only speeding up, employees left and right are only looking to slow down, and the data shows that doing so outside of work is to everyone’s benefit. Working hard, but also resting hard and sharing the duties at home, leads to less stress and higher satisfaction. It is likely that only the tip of the iceberg has been discovered in regards to how environmental differences allow stress to play out in separate ways, and even better methods of stress management will simply depend on further research.

Opinion by Brad Johnson

Wicked Local North Andover
TWC News

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