A study published last month in the journal Social Science & Medicine
has debunked the common assumption that home life is a respite from the stressful goings-on at work.
The research, carried out by Penn State University scientists, randomly selected 122 participants from a mid-size U.S. city, all of whom worked outside the home five days per week within the 6am-7pm timeframe. Subjects were taught to test their own hormone levels by swabbing the inside of their cheek six times a day. At the same time, they were also asked to report where they were, how stressed they felt and how happy they were.
Surprisingly, researchers found significantly and consistently lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol in a majority of subjects when they were at work, compared with when they were at home.
The results proved consistent irrespective of the individual subjects’ occupations, whether they were single or in a partnership, or even whether they enjoyed their job or not.
However, one intriguing anomaly did appear: The only subjects who didn’t present lower levels of cortisol at work (their levels remained the same as when they were at home) were those who earned more than US$75,000 per year.
The study also found that while both parents and childless adults were less stressed at work, the difference was greater for people without children. Researchers suggest say this may be because either parents bring some home stress to work, or because children may help relieve stress at home.
Moreover, women were more likely to report feeling happier at work than men. The authors say this may be because women still do more housework and child care and may feel they have less free time.
So, how can we make domestic life less stressful? "Make home a little more like work," Richard Levak, a Del Mar, Calif., psychologist, tells The Wall Street Journal
. Here are his tips for balancing your stress levels at home:
- Learn to set boundaries: “Just as when we are in our office or cubicle and we say no to a request that isn't in our domain. Explain to children or a spouse that you need uninterrupted time alone. Help them rehearse what to do while you are unavailable. Create a place where they can write down what they want to tell you when they have the urge to interrupt, so you can read it together later.”
- Prepare for pushback: "Everyone will resist. They want access to you all the time. You have to be mindful that your spouse or kids will feel rejected." He suggests preparing them by telling them when and for how long you are planning to take a break.
- Build down time into everyone's schedule: “Set aside specific times at home to relax and have fun, and make them inviolate. Plan a movie night. Put a regular exercise time on the calendar. Take a walk after dinner every evening.”
- If you want appreciation, try modelling that behaviour: “Bring your spouse coffee in bed. Give the children a treat when they've done something well. If you live alone, celebrate your own accomplishments (I like to take myself to lunch).”
- Create more structure: “Don't watch TV mindlessly; record only what you care about and watch one evening a week. Sit down to meals at the table. Try not to answer email or texts after a certain time. If you want to improve your level of happiness at home, you need to be as mindful of following a structure at home as you are at work.”