Midlife stress at work = more illness in later life, says study

Researchers have found a link between midlife work stress and illness in older age. (pic: istockphoto.com/DOUGBERRY)

Researchers have found a link between midlife work stress and illness in older age. (pic: istockphoto.com/DOUGBERRY)

If you’re stressing out at work in middle age – subjecting yourself to physical and mental strain – then you could be facing more hospital visits as you get older. That’s according to a long-term study of more than 5,600 public-sector workers aged 44-58 in Finland.

Researchers at the University of Jyväskylä in Finland found a direct correlation between the amount of job strain suffered in middle age and the number of days in hospital in people aged 65+. Physical job strain was classed as breathlessness, sweating and heart palpitation. Mental job strain was classed as how much control people they felt they had in their daily worklife compared with the demands put on them in terms of work volume and scheduling.

There was a strong link between physical and mental strain and hospitalisation among men – but only physical strain showed a link for women.

Feelings of stress and strain are subjective, found the study. Much depends on a subjective view of what is stressful and what isn’t. “Occasional feelings of job strain are not necessarily a bad thing, but persistent high job strain has been identified as a health hazard,” said lead researcher Mikaela von Bonsdorff.

One to think about when heading back to work after the Christmas holidays.

Heavy texting affects sleep and creates stress, says study

Fear of missing a text can keep people awake during the night. (pic: istockphoto.com/idal)

Fear of missing a text can keep people awake during the night. (pic: istockphoto.com/idal)

Take a look round any train carriage, or indeed any social situation, and you’ll see how hard it is for people to put their mobile phones down. But this fear of missing out on a text, or even of misinterpreting what someone has texted, is ramping up stress levels and affecting people’s sleep.

Researchers from Washington and Lee University tested the effects of night-time testing on college students, the majority of whom would keep their phones beside their bed, or even under their pillows, so they could respond to texts during the night. They asked study participants to keep a sleep diary, and assessed results according to the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index, which measures the amount of sleep, the number of disturbances, and how long it takes to fall asleep.

The Telegraph reports the study findings: the more texts a person sends, the worse the quality of sleep. Young people also become more stressed around their friendships, as the meaning  of text messages can sometimes be misconstrued. The moral of the story is not to carry out any conflict or arguments via text, but to take it face-to-face instead. And not to take your mobile phone to bed.

The ‘always on’ culture makes holidays a struggle for Brits

Even beautiful beaches can't distract stressed holidaymakers from checking their work emails.

Even beautiful beaches can’t distract stressed holidaymakers from checking their work emails.

The bank holiday week could offer the final opportunity to take a break and enjoy what’s left of the summer. Yet Brits struggle to unwind when they go away on holiday, taking on average four days, eight hours and 24 minutes before they can finally relax. That’s according to a survey by recruitment site Monster.co.uk.

A third of Britons take five days to relax, 40% take four days, one in 10 manages to unwind after just one day – and yet 18% never get into holiday mode at all. Why? Because they can’t switch off from work, and will continue to check their work emails in between trips to the beach and the pool. They may have flown miles away to escape the daily routine, but succeed only in bringing their stresses along with them.

Monster.co.uk’s Michael Gentle said: “The fact it is taking so long for workers to unwind on holiday is indicative of the ‘always switched on’ culture we now live in. By not relaxing fully, workers are putting themselves at risk of burnout, which will be detrimental to them and their employer in the long run.”

Working fewer hours won’t make you happier, says study

Doing fewer hours at work doesn't improve life satisfaction. (pic: istockphoto.com/hjalmeida)

Doing fewer hours at work may not improve life satisfaction. (pic: istockphoto.com/hjalmeida)

The opportunity to work fewer hours may be on many people’s wishlists but, in reality, working less does not lead to increased life satisfaction. A 10-year study published in the Journal of Happiness Studies of workers in South Korea found that, while people were satisfied with a shorter working week ( a reduction of 10%), their levels of happiness in their lives overall did not increase.

One of the reasons for this outcome is that, even though workers put in fewer hours, their workload was not similarly reduced. In other words, they had to do the same amount of work in a tighter timeframe. However, one could conclude from the research that people’s wellbeing is not necessarily linked to the number of hours they work – and long hours may not be detrimental to some.

One particularly interesting finding from the study, however, was the different uses to which men and women put their new spare time. Men used it for leisure and hobbies. Women used it to catch up on their household duties.

Why do women suffer more job stress than men?

Mimosa is the symbol for International Women’s Day.

International Women’s Day on 8 March is an opportunity to celebrate and support women across the globe. But it’s also an annual opportunity for survey-makers to analyse the experience of women in the workplace.

This year, research shows that women feel they’re more stressed than their male colleagues. The 2013 Work and Wellbeing Survey by the American Psychological Association (APA) has found that while 86% of women say they have good mental health, more than a third (37%) say they feel tense or stressed out at work. This compares with 33% of men. Here are some of the factors making women feel stressed:

  • Women don’t feel there’s a level playing field at work. The APA survey found that 48% of women felt valued in their jobs, compared with 54% of men. And just 34% believe their employer gives them the resources to manage their stress.
  • Women have less job security than men. A report by PwC says that childcare costs and many women only able to work nine-to-five has harmed their career prospects. Its Women in Work Index  shows that the UK is ranked 18th out of 27 countries in terms of the opportunities it offers for women to advance in the workplace.
  • The pay gap isn’t cheering women up either. ‘Why is WonderWoman worth less than Superman?” asks the Chartered Management Institute, as it reflects on factors holding women back in the workplace.
  • There’s not enough ‘meaning’ in their jobs. Women aren’t always interested in power and money, says an Ernst & Young report. It’s ‘making a contribution’ that matters more. And the report advises women to seek our role models and mentors to help realise their ambitions.
  • Having no set goals can also make women feel stressed and lacking direction. That’s why the everywomanNetwork is encouraging women to invest an hour a week in their career ambitions.  Owning your dreams, and devising a plan to implement them, can make you feel more in control of your life.
  • Not having enough sleep can make the stresses of the day loom larger. You can feel irritated and overly sensitive if you’re sleep-deprived. Don’t be superwoman and think you can survive on four hours’ sleep a night like Margaret Thatcher. Get your eight hours in, where possible.
  • The inner critic can be a woman’s own worst enemy. Arianna Huffington, founder of Huff Post, is urging women to ‘stress less, live more‘. In an interview with CNN, she says women’s pressures are self-imposed, and they feel victims of the “critical voice that constantly judges us, according to which we are never good enough”.

In summary, more self-confidence, more sleep, more control over ambitions, and more encouragement seems to be the answer to alleviating women’s job stress. Not all achievable in one day, admittedly. But the most important thing is to turn down the volume on that critical voice in the head.

Lack of sleep can affect your health and your home life

anima sleep

Is burning the midnight oil affecting your health? (pic: istockphoto.com/Yuri_Arcurs)

We all know how groggy and out of sorts we can feel if we don’t get enough sleep. But two studies have shown just what an impact sleep deficiency can have on our body and our mood.

Getting less than six hours’ sleep a night for a week can alter more than 700 genes in our bodies, according to research from the University of Surrey. The immune system and how the body reacts to stress were the areas most affected by lack of sleep, the researchers found. Getting enough sleep is therefore crucial to replacing cells in our body to maintain healthy functioning.

This isn’t always easy though, especially for working parents. A separate study by workplace provider Regus found that a third (34%) of working parents sacrificed sleep to fit in all their work and personal commitments. Yet three-quarters find themselves sucked into the culture of ‘presenteeism’ because their workplaces prize a long-hours culture.

Work-life balance is a hard one to get right. “Lack of sleep is clearly detrimental to worker health and happiness,” says Regus UK MD Steve Purdy. Perhaps that’s something to reflect on next time you set your alarm extra early or find yourself burning the midnight oil.