Can seeing green boost your happiness?

davanti counselling green grass heart

Seek out scenes of green to soothe your stress. (pic courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net/Master isolated images)

“When the green woods laugh with the voice of joy,

And the dimpling stream runs laughing by;

When the air does laugh with our merry wit,

And the green hill laughs with the noise of it.”

William Blake

The poet William Blake had a strong sense of the power of green for joy and happiness. The colour green is often associated with peace, harmony, growth and balance, and symbolises the colour of the heart. Walking in nature, and enjoying the greenery, is often cited as a natural and effective remedy for alleviating stress and depression.

Yet new research suggests that it’s not just BEING in nature that can help with mood. Even LOOKING at green scenes can help people recover from stress and feel happier.

A study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health showed the results of research that recorded participants’ stress responses during a series of tasks that asked them to view green and built scenes before and after doing some challenging mental arithmetic.

The researchers concluded: “The findings provide support for greater recovery in participants who viewed green scenes as compared to participants who viewed built scenes. Viewing green scenes may thus be particularly effective in supporting relaxation and recovery after experiencing a stressful period, and thereby could serve as an opportunity for micro-restorative experiences and a promising tool in preventing chronic stress and stress-related diseases.”

So, seek out green if you’ve had a stressful period and would like some respite and recovery.

Biggest source of employee stress is not knowing what bosses want

davanti counselling confused employee

Unclear expectations from managers can create stress among workers (pic courtesy of iosphere/freedigitalphotos.net)

Never mind heavy workloads, long hours or annoying colleagues. The greatest source of stress for employees is having bosses who aren’t clear about their expectations.

Nearly a third (31%) of employees in a survey carried out by US employee assistance firm ComPsych said lack of clear direction from supervisors was the primary source of their stress. Second (20%) came confusion or conflict between colleagues or departments. Belief that workload would intensify was the third stressor (18%) and fourth was uncertainty about the future stability of the organisation (15%).

Dr. Richard A. Chaifetz, Founder, Chairman and CEO of ComPsych, said: “Change has become a constant for many workplaces, whether in the US or globally. Employees are telling us that much of the disequilibrium around change is coming from managers.” He added that employees are increasingly asking for training around resiliency in the workplace.

I agree that change can be stressful, as you just don’t know what it will mean for you. When your stability becomes threatened it can trigger a survival response (like fight, flight or freeze) and you can become stressed. It can be a terrifying time not knowing what lies in store for you, and you can end up with anxious days and sleepless nights fretting over what will unfold. It can put you in a place of second guessing what your boss might want – not knowing if you’re right or wrong – which can leave you feeling deskilled and fearful.

The unknown can also bring up feelings of powerlessness, like being a child again. Hard though it may be, the antidote to this is to step into your adult state and take steps to feel as though you are taking charge of something at work. That may be asking for a meeting with your boss to clarify what is required of you, no matter how hard that might seem. Your stress levels will thank you for it, though.

The ‘dark side’ of perfectionism can cause stress and burnout

Worrying about meeting standards, and fear of failure are two aspects of the darker side of perfectionism, which can lead to burnout (pic courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net/Marcus74id)

Fear of failure and worrying about meeting standards are two aspects of the darker side of perfectionism, which can lead to burnout (pic courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net/Marcus74id)

Think of a perfectionist, and you’ll picture someone conscientious who goes the extra mile to produce top-notch work. Someone with extremely high standards who is motivated and energised to achieve them. That’s the ‘light’ or positive side of perfectionism, according to researchers, who say that these qualities and attributes can contribute to a strong sense of achievement.

But there is also a darker side to perfectionism, which is when people “constantly worry about making mistakes, letting others down, or not measuring up to their own impossibly high standards”, according to lead researcher Andrew Hill, associate professor of sport psychology at York St. John University in England, whose findings were published in the Personality and Social Psychology Review. People who become consumed by perfectionism are more likely to achieve the opposite, by sabotaging their success in relationships, on the sports field, and especially in the workplace.

The results from this current study came from an analysis of 43 other studies over the last 20 years. The dark side of perfectionism – or ‘perfectionistic concerns’ can lead to people fearing they’re not being good enough, of berating themselves every time they make a mistake. Instead of feeling good about their achievements after all the work they’ve put in, sometimes a lack of support or acknowledgement in the workplace can turn perfectionism into cynicism, and the darker aspects can turn in on themselves – sometimes leading to mental health concerns, such as stress, anxiety and depression. Not to mention self-criticism and the voice of the inner bully/critic, mercilessly tormenting the perfectionist who feels that nothing will ever be good enough.

The antidote to dark perfectionism is compassion and forgiveness (not always easy for a perfectionist), and seeking out environments and people where mistakes are not only tolerated but encouraged as an opportunity to grow and learn. Admittedly, this isn’t always easy. Hill added: “People need to learn to challenge the irrational beliefs that underlie perfectionistic concerns by setting realistic goals, accepting failure as a learning opportunity, and forgiving themselves when they fail. Creating environments where creativity, effort and perseverance are valued also would help.”

Related articles:

Sugar, spice… and all things stressed

Scientists have proved the link between stress, sweets and emotions - and the impact that can have (pic courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net/rakratchada torsap)

Scientists have proved the link between stress, sweets and emotions – and the impact that can have (pic courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net/rakratchada torsap)

If you find yourself reaching for the biscuit tin, searching in the treats cupboard, or raiding the kiddies’ sweetie stash when you come home from work feeling stressed – and need to find an antidote that calms you down, quickly! –  it will come as little surprise that researchers have found that eating sugar is one of the best stress relievers around.

You can read on ‘Women’s Doctor’ that sweets relieve stress – but you can of course try to substitute sugar for healthier alternatives. However, the answer may not be as simple as that. Body fat can have an effect on the way the brain responds to stress and metabolism, according to a University of Florida study.

The research found that: “Stress causes a desire to eat more, which can lead to obesity. And too much extra fat can impair the body’s ability to send a signal to the brain to shut off the stress response.” So, stress isn’t just in the brain after all.

This is a new finding in this field, where stress was generally thought to be an emotional response. Now that the ‘fat to brain pathway’ has been detected, researchers are going to look at those signals that prompt overeating in response to stress, and work out how those links can be recognised and broken – both ways.

Further articles on the link between stress, diet and emotion include:

Women suffer more summertime stress than men, says study

Planning a holiday and keeping everyone add can add to female summertime stress

Planning a holiday and keeping everyone happy can add to female summertime stress

Holiday season has started: traditionally a time for sun, sea, sand – and stress, especially if you’re a woman. Or at least that’s what figures from a travel company survey suggest.

Research among 1000 people by Momondo shows that women are far more likely to be stressed than men when it comes to planning holidays (33% of women compared with 23% of men). The same percentage of women and men endured stress during the journey and getting to the destination. Overall, 54% of people feel more relaxed while on holiday, but one in four women still felt stressed about some aspect of their holiday while they were meant to be enjoying it. Four in 10 men admitted that they felt no stress whatsoever regarding their holiday (planning, getting there and coming home) compared with a quarter of women.

Momondo said: “Commonly women may be more involved with the organisation and planning stage of a trip, which can involve some skill in balancing a group’s expectations and budgets. This could result in some anxiety in connection to the holiday.” The company offers some tips on how to have a stress-free holiday.

Two of the best tips are: remembering to unplug and leave your work at home; and lowering your expectations. It’s pointless piling pressure on yourself to create the perfect holiday for everyone else. Let go of responsibility and have a good time too.

Can stress really be friend not foe?

Don't fight stress and it can point you in the right direction, say US psychologists. (pic courtesy of Stuart Miles/freedigitalphotos.net)

Don’t fight stress and it can point you in the right direction, say US psychologists. (pic courtesy of Stuart Miles/freedigitalphotos.net)

Relying on coping strategies to avoid stress – rather than embracing stress as a natural and welcome part of our everyday lives – could be causing us more problems in the short and long term, according to US psychologists from Stanford. They argue that stress can be more helpful than harmful, if you only change your stress mindset.

That might initially seem like an upside-down concept, particularly given the rise in recent years of mindfulness-based stress reduction courses and other stress management techniques to help quieten the mind, calm the breathing, and tame the anxious thoughts. But the Stanford research proposes that resisting stress through avoidance or procrastination, or amplifying it through catastrophic or destructive thinking, can increase instances of depression, divorce, job loss etc. In other words, all the consequences the stressed-out person is desperately seeking to avoid.

How I interpret the research is that the psychologists are suggesting we come to view stress as a way to help us meet our challenges rather than be defeated or victimised by them. Yes, they acknowledge that stress is responsible for some rather unpleasant physical and emotional consequences. Yet they argue that stress (or the response to adrenalin in fight or flight mode) is there to help us stand up to our difficulties rather than feel we need to run from them. Importantly, we don’t need to feel crushed by the weight of life’s injustices, or fear that our stress levels are another sign that we’re weak and unable to cope.

Here are three further key points from the research that I believe provide insight: (more…)

Social snubs are harder to shake off if you’re depressed

Not fitting in and being rejected by the crowd hurts more if you're depressed. (pic courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net/StuartMiles)

Not fitting in and being rejected by the crowd hurts more if you’re depressed. (pic courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net/StuartMiles)

The hurt of being snubbed by someone who used to be your friend, or being rejected by social groups goes deeper and lasts longer if you’re suffering from untreated depression, according to a study from the University of Michigan. This seems to be adding insult to injury to people who may already be feeling bad about themselves. However, there is a scientific reason to explain this.

The researchers tested stress-reducing chemicals (called opioids) in the brains of depressed and non-depressed people in the context of online dating, where likes and rejections often come in equal measures. In short, when depressed people received rejections they found it harder to regulate their emotions, while non-depressed people were able to cope with the social stress and move on without giving it much more thought.  When someone liked them back, both depressed and non-depressed people felt an uplift (which the researchers were surprised about, because depression can affect the ability to feel joy). However, the feeling of social acceptance was short-lived in people with depression.