TIME Diet/Nutrition

Here’s Why Living on a Noisy Street Could Make You Fatter

man driving a car, eating a burger
Getty Images

Living next to a busy thoroughfare may affect more than just your mental well-being

The overwhelming hum from nearby traffic is often annoying, but it could also be making individuals more obese, according to new research from Sweden.

In an article featured in the Occupational and Environmental Medicine journal this week, researchers said they found that residents of Stockholm exposed regularly to noise from trains, aircraft or road traffic, all experienced growth in their respective waistlines.

For individuals that were unlucky enough to have been consistently exposed to all three categories, “the risk of a larger waist doubled from the 25% heightened risk among people exposed to only one noise source,” reports the Guardian.

The research team was unable to draw a conclusive link between noise pollution and obesity, but suggested that the increase of stress caused by audible irritants may be a possible culprit.

“Traffic noise may influence metabolic and cardiovascular functions through sleep disturbances and chronic stress,” said Andrei Pyko, lead author of the study at Sweden’s Karolinska Institutet, according to the Australian Associated Press.

And when a person’s sleep patterns are disturbed, it can easily affect “immune functions, influence the central control of appetite and energy expenditure as well as increase circulating levels of the stress hormone cortisol.”

[Guardian]

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

This Divorce Arrangement Stresses Kids Out Most

Regarding the wellbeing of kids with divorced parents, the debate over what kind of custody arrangement is best rages on. But a new study, published Monday in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, suggests that children fare better when they spend time living with both of their parents.

That goes against some current thinking that kids in shared-custody situations are exposed to more stress due to constantly moving around and the social upheaval that can come along with that. “Child experts and people in general assumed that these children should be more stressed,” says study author Malin Bergström, PhD, researcher at the Centre for Health Equity Studies in Stockholm, Sweden. “But this study opposes a major concern that this should not be good for children.”

The researchers wanted to see if kids who lived part time with both parents were more stressed than those who lived with just one parent. They looked at national data from almost 150,000 12- and 15-year-old students—each in either 6th grade or 9th grade—and studied their psychosomatic health problems, including sleep problems, difficulty concentrating, loss of appetite, headaches, stomachaches and feeling tense, sad or dizzy. They found that 69% of them lived in nuclear families, while 19% spent time living with both parents and about 13% lived with only one parent.

Kids in nuclear families reported the fewest psychosomatic problems, but the more interesting finding was that students who lived with both of their separated parents reported significantly fewer problems than kids who lived with only one parent.

“We think that having everyday contact with both parents seems to be more important, in terms of stress, than living in two different homes,” says Bergström. “It may be difficult to keep up on engaged parenting if you only see your child every second weekend.” Having two parents also tends to double the number of resources a kid is exposed to, including social circles, family and material goods like money. “Only having access to half of that may make children more vulnerable or stressed than having it from both parents, even though they don’t live together,” she says.

Girls reported more psychosomatic problems than boys did, and the most frequent problem for girls was sadness. Sleep problems were the most common in kids overall.

In Sweden, joint-custody parenting has risen dramatically in the past few decades; in the 1980s, only 1% of kids of divorced parents lived in joint-custody arrangements, but that number jumped to 40% in 2010. Shared parenting is less common in the U.S., says Ned Holstein, MD, founder and acting executive director of the National Parents Organization, and he estimates the rate is less than 20%. Still, he says that the research in favor of shared parenting for kids is overwhelming. “You’ll hear opponents say, ‘You’ll turn them into suitcase kids; they don’t want to be dragged back and forth,'” Holstein says. “Clearly, taking the suitcase back and forth once or twice a week so that you spend a lot of time with both parents is way better for the kids than the alternative of basically losing an intimate and closely loving relationship with one parent.”

For all the week’s news of interest to families, sign up here for TIME’s free weekly parenting newsletter.

TIME Exercise/Fitness

Yoga Helps Older Adults Battle Depression and Anxiety

Getty Images

For many older adults, the thought of stepping into a yoga class swarming with yogis more flexible than Gumby might provoke anxiety. But the practice itself may be just the antidote the over-60 set needs, suggests a recent review of studies about relaxation exercises. Those who did yoga and other calming activities saw greater reductions in their anxiety and depression than people who didn’t.

The body of literature on yoga’s relaxation benefits spans all kinds of people, but the authors thought adults aged 60 and older deserved their own analysis. Up to 40% of older adults report anxiety, they note, and anywhere from 15-20% of the elderly experience depression. So in the review published in the journal Aging & Mental Health, researchers scrutinized 15 studies—12 of them randomized controlled trials—from the past two decades that looked at different methods of relaxation. They gauged the effectiveness of six techniques: yoga, listening to music, tensing and relaxing different groups of muscles, massage therapy and stress management training.

MORE: Is Bikram Yoga Safe?

The most effective ways to alleviate depression were yoga, the music intervention and the muscle tensing and relaxing exercise—called PMRT, for progressive muscle relaxation training. The music and yoga interventions were the best for anxiety.

Yoga had the strongest staying power. Positive effects from the stretching, breathing and meditation exercises stuck around six months later in older adults. “It could help counterbalance the negative effects of ageing, improve physical functioning, postpone disability, decrease morbidity and mortality, stimulate the mind, and increase hope, reducing the risk of anxiety and depression,” the study authors write.

MORE: 15 Ways Exercise Makes You Look and Feel Younger

And good vibes from PMRT lasted 14 weeks after the intervention ended. “It is believed that the PMRT has a tranquilising effect, triggers a sense of peacefulness, helps participants retreat mentally from their problem and curtails negative thoughts, reducing depressive symptoms,” the authors write.

The most effective intervention, of course, is the one you enjoy doing—and these results suggest that it’s never too late to find your favorite way to unwind.

 

TIME Parenting

Unhappy Families Can Make Daughters Fat

145138049
Michael Hevesy—Getty Images

A new study suggests that stress at home can have a major impact on our kids' waistlines

Childhood obesity has become such a big problem in the United States that the rate of obese adolescents—21%—exceeds the rate of overweight adolescents (14%). It’s been that way for the last decade.

Dr. Daphne Hernandez, assistant professor at the University of Houston, wants to figure out why despite our efforts, that rate hasn’t budged. “Many times when we’re designing interventions and prevention programs, they’re done in schools because that’s where we have ease of access to all these kiddos,” she says. “But the issue is that in those interventions, we don’t think about the family environment and what could be happening at home.”

In her new study published in the journal Preventive Medicine, she decided to look at three family stressors: family disruption and conflict, the kind a kid would experience after a parent got divorced, remarried, incarcerated or if the child experienced a violent crime or death of a loved one; financial stress, a measure of poverty determined in part by whether a mom was unemployed or had less than a high school education; and maternal poor health, whether the mom was a binge drinker, drug user or had elevated depression.

MORE: Mindfulness Exercises Improve Kids’ Math Scores

Hernandez analyzed data from 4,762 adolescents between 1975-1990 using the National Longitudinal Study of Youth. She measured each adolescent’s exposure to these family factors from birth until age 15, then looked at their weight at age 18. The results showed clear gender differences. In adolescent girls, experiencing family disruption and financial stress repeatedly was linked to overweight or obesity by age 18. That wasn’t true for adolescent boys. Just one stress point—poor maternal health—was linked to being overweight or obese by 18.

When all the findings were lumped together, Hernandez says, the gender differences disappeared. “Not all stress influences females and males the same,” she says. The reason why lies beyond the scope of this study, but Hernandez suspects it has something to do with physiolgocial and behavioral stress responses. Your body secretes cortisol when it’s stressed, she says—which, if chronic, suppresses your body’s ability to feel satiated. “Behaviorally, you then gravitate more towards the more palatable foods, the high calorie, high fat foods, so you’re not reaching for that apple or celery stick,” she says. This pattern seems to be more prevalent in females than in males, she adds.

“We really need to think about how we are teaching our adolescents how to deal with stress, and trying not to use food as a way to deal with stress,” Hernandez says. “Perhaps encouraging physical activity is the way we should be going.”

Want to stay up to date on all the latest family research? Sign up for Time’s free weekly newsletter for parents.

 

MONEY Workplace

Why Checking Email After Work Is Bad for Your Career—and Your Health

Robert A. Di Ieso, Jr.

Q: Should I check work email outside of normal business hours?

A: The availability of smartphones and tablets has made it easy and common to check email anytime, anywhere: 59% of American workers say they use their mobile devices to do work after normal business hours, according to a recent Workplace Options survey.

But that convenience comes at a price. Checking email constantly can lead to burnout and health problems, says Dean Debnam, chief executive officer of Workplace Options, which provides employees with work-life balance support services.

Whether you should check work email regularly depends on your personal preference as well as your company culture, Debnam says. For many, the ability to field email anytime, anywhere is a good thing. It can free you from long hours in the office and enable you to respond quickly to important or urgent issues. You may feel better not having a full inbox when you log on in the a.m. About 80% of workers say using a smart phone, tablet, or laptop to work outside of typical business hours is positive, according to a 2014 Gallup poll.

For some professions, it is just part of the job. Maybe you work with people across different time zones. Or you’re a consultant, lawyer, or salesperson who needs to be available to clients all the time. (A prestigious law firm had to apologize to employees recently when its announcement of a new policy eliminating email overnight and on weekends turned out to be an April Fool’s prank.)

On the downside, constantly being available online translates into more work hours. Though just 36% of workers say they frequently check in outside of regular office hours, those who do log an additional 10 hours of work a week—twice as many hours as those who rarely or only occasionally check email remotely, according to the Gallup survey.

Younger workers and men are more likely to be in constant contact. About 40% of Gen-X and Gen-Y workers check email frequently outside of work vs. one-third of Baby Boomers, and 40% of men vs. 31% of women, according to the Gallup poll.

The more money you make and more education you have, the more likely you are to be among those frequently connected. Employees with a college degree or higher and people who earn more than $120,000 a year are twice as likely to constantly check email than those with lower education levels and salaries below $48,000 a year. That’s a reflection of how prevalent email communication is for higher education and income groups in white collar jobs—or the pressure many workers feel to respond immediately.

There’s lots of evidence that that kind of connectivity is bad for your health, your psyche, and your productivity.

First, it can seriously intrude on your personal life. A survey of 1,000 workers by Good Technology, a mobile-software firm, found that 68% of people checked work email before 8 a.m., 50% checked it while in bed, 57% do it on family outings, and 38% regularly do at the dinner table.

And your communication might not be as sharp or thoughtful when you’re doing it off-hours. It is hard to be at your best when you’re responding to a work issue late at night or in a non-work setting. “If you check in during a family dinner or with your kids running around in the background, you’re going to be distracted,” says Debnam.

Working around the clock can cause serious health problems too. A piece in Medical Daily cited a recent study in the journal Chronobiology International that found that checking your work email at home, or taking a call from the boss on weekends, could lead to psychological, gastrointestinal, and cardiovascular problems

If you don’t want to be constantly connected, set expectations up front by not getting into the habit of monitoring and responding to email after hours unless there’s an important reason to do so. And if it’s just part of your company culture? Well, then you have to decide whether that’s a company you want to work for, says Debnam.

 

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

17 Surprising Reasons You’re Stressed Out

woman-headache-stressed
Getty Images

Watch out for these hidden anxiety triggers

You’re probably all too aware of the major sources of stress in your life—money, your terrible commute, the construction workers who start jackhammering at 5 a.m. But stress and anxiety don’t have to just come from obvious or even negative sources. “There are plenty of chronic strains and low-grade challenges that don’t necessarily overwhelm you in the moment, but almost take more of a toll in the long run,” says Scott Schieman, PhD, professor of sociology at the University of Toronto. These are some of unexpected reasons why you might feel anxious or agitated. By recognizing them for what they are, says Schieman, you can better prepare to cope.

Your significant other

Even if you have a blissfully happy relationship with your live-in partner or spouse, you’re both bound to do things that get on each other’s nerves. “Early in the relationship, it’s usually about space and habits—like whether you squeeze the toothpaste from the middle or the bottom of the tube,” says Ken Yeager, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. “Later on, you might clash over parenting style or financial issues, and finding a unified front to face these issues together.” So what’s the key to surviving and thriving in your life together? Finding balance, says Yeager: spending the right amount of time together (not too much and not too little), making compromises, keeping communication open and honest, and remembering to acknowledge what you love about each other on a daily basis.

Everyday annoyances

We’re told not to sweat the small stuff, but sometimes it’s the little things that have the biggest impact on our mood: the never-ending phone calls with your insurance company, the rude cashier at the grocery store, the 20 minutes you lose looking for a parking space. “We let these things bother us because they trigger unconscious fears,” says Yeager—fears of being seen as irresponsible, of being bullied or embarrassed, or of being late all the time, for example. “Sometimes you need to take a step back and realize that you’re doing the best you can given the circumstances.”

Read more: 12 Signs You May Have an Anxiety Disorder

Other people’s stress

Stress is contagious, according to a 2014 German study: In a series of experiments, most participants who simply observed others completing a stressful task experienced an increase themselves in production of the stress hormone cortisol—a phenomenon known as empathic stress. You can also experience stress when someone you know is affected by a traumatic event, like a car crash or a chronic illness. “You start to worry, ‘Oh my gosh, could that happen to me?’,” says Yeager. “We tend not to think about these things until they hit close to home.”

Social media

It may seem like Facebook is the only way you keep up with the friends you don’t see regularly—which, during particularly busy times, can be just about all of them. The social network also has a downside, according to a 2015 study from the Pew Research Center: It can make you aware of stressful situations in your friends’ lives, which in turn can add more stress to your life. The Pew report didn’t find that social media users, overall, had higher levels of stress, but previous studies have suggested that frequent social-media use can be associated with negative body image and prolonged breakup pain.

Distraction

A distraction can be a good thing then when it takes your mind off of a stressful situation or difficult decision, like when you take a break from work to meet a friend for lunch. But it works the other way, as well: When you’re so busy thinking about something else that you can’t enjoy what’s going on around you, that kind of distraction can be a recipe for stress. Practicing mindfulness gives you brain the refresh it needs, says Richard Lenox, director of the Student Counseling Center at Texas Tech University. Paying full attention to your surroundings when you’re walking and driving can help, he adds. “Stress and anxiety tend to melt away when our mind is focused on the present.”

Read more: 12 Worst Habits for Your Mental Health

Your childhood

Traumatic events that happened when you were a kid can continue to affect your stress levels and overall health into adulthood. A 2014 University of Wisconsin-Madison study found that these childhood experiences may actually change parts of the brain responsible for processing stress and emotion. The way you were raised can also have a lasting impact on your everyday angst, suggests a 2014 Johns Hopkins University study. Researchers found that children of parents with social anxiety disorders are more likely to develop “trickle-down anxiety”—not simply because of their genes, but because of their parents’ behaviors toward them such as a lack of warmth and emotion, or high levels of criticism and doubt.

Tea and chocolate

You probably know to take it easy on the coffee when you’re already feeling on edge. “Caffeine is always going to make stress worse,” says Yeager. But you may not think as much about drinking several cups of tea at once, or chowing down on a bar of dark chocolate—both of which can contain nearly as much caffeine as a cup of joe. “Chocolate is a huge caffeine source,” says Yeager. “I know people who don’t drink coffee but they’ll eat six little candy bars in a two-hour period because they want the same kind of jolt.” Too much caffeine, in any form, can cause problems with sleep, digestion, and irritability.

Read more: 25 Surprising Ways Stress Affects Your Health

Your expectations

When things don’t go the way you’ve planned, do you tend to get upset and act defensively, or do you roll with the punches and set off on a new plan? If it’s the former, you could be contributing to a mindset of pessimism and victimization that will slowly wear you down, even when things may not be as bad as they seem. “Your level of serenity is inversely proportionate to your expectations,” says Yeager. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t set ambitious goals for yourself or settle for less than what you want, of course, but being realistic about what’s truly possible is important, as well.

Your reaction to stress

If you tend to deal with stressful situations by working long hours, skipping your workouts, and bingeing on junk food, we’ve got some bad news: You’re only making it worse. “We know that physical activity and healthy foods will help your body better deal with stress, and yet we often avoid them when we need them the most,” says Yeager. “People really need to think about this downward spiral we get into and work harder to counteract it.”

Multitasking

Think you’re being super efficient by tackling four tasks at once? Chances are you’re not —and it’s only decreasing your productivity while increasing your stress. A 2012 University of Irvine study, for example, found that people who responded to emails all day long while also trying to get their work done experienced more heart-rate variability (an indicator of mental stress) than those who waited to respond to all of their emails at one time. Focusing on one task at a time can ensure that you’re doing that job to the best of your abilities and getting the most out of it, so you won’t have to worry about or go back and fix it later, says Schieman. And don’t worry: You’ll have enough time to do it all. In fact, you may discover you have more time than you thought.

Your favorite sport

Watching a tight game of college hoops can stress you out—even if your alma mater wins. “The body doesn’t distinguish between ‘bad’ stress from life or work and ‘good’ stress caused by game-day excitement,” says Jody Gilchrist, a nurse practitioner at the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Heart and Vascular Clinic. Watching sports can even trigger the body’s sympathetic nervous system, releasing adrenaline and reducing blood flow to the heart. Those temporary consequences aren’t usually anything to be concerned about, but over time, chronic stress can lead to high blood pressure and increased disease risk. And, of course, it doesn’t help if you’re adding alcohol and binge-eating to a situation that’s already stressful on your body. You may not be able to control the outcome of the game, says Gilchrist, but you can limit its effects on your own body.

Read more: 11 Things You Should Never Do When You’re Angry

Digital devices

Whether you’re using it for work or play, technology may play a large role in your mental health, says Yeager. Using computers or e-readers too close to bedtime could lead to sleep problems, he says, and spending too much time virtually socializing can make real-life interactions seem extra stressful. (Plus, texting doesn’t trigger the same feel-good hormones as face-to-face talk does.) Then there’s the dreaded “work creep,” says Schieman, when smartphones allow employees to be tethered to their jobs, even during off-hours. “People say they’re only going to check email for an hour while they’re on vacation, but the problem with email is that they’re filled with responsibilities, new tasks, and dilemmas that are going to be hard to compartmentalize and put out of your head once that hour is up.”

Your (good) health

While it may not be as stressful as having a chronic illness or getting bad news at the doctor’s office, even people in the best shape of their lives worry about their bodies, their diets, and their fitness levels. In fact, people who take healthy living to an extreme may experience some rather unhealthy side effects. People who follow low-carb diets, for example, are more likely to report being sad or stressed out, while those on any kind of restrictive meal plan may feel more tired than usual. And it’s not unheard of for someone to become obsessed with healthy eating (known as orthorexia) or working out (gymorexia). Like any form of perfectionism, these problems can be stressful at best, and extremely dangerous at worst.

Housework

Does folding laundry help you feel calm, or does it make your blood boil? If you’re in a living situation where you feel you’re responsible for an unfair share of work, even chores you once enjoyed may start to feel like torture. “Dividing up housework and parenting responsibilities can be tricky, especially if both partners work outside the home,” says Schieman. “And whether you define that division of labor as equal or unequal can really change your attitude toward it.”

Read more: 19 Natural Remedies for Anxiety

Uncertainty

Stress can be defined as any perceived or actual threat, says Yeager, so any type of doubt that’s looming over you can contribute to your anxiety levels on a daily basis. “When you know something could change at any minute, you always have your guard up and it’s hard to just relax and enjoy anything.” Financial uncertainty may be the most obvious stressor—not being sure if you’ll keep your job during a round of layoffs, or not knowing how you’ll pay your credit card bill. Insecurities in other areas of life, like your relationship or your housing status, can eat away at you too.

Your pet

No matter how much you love your furry friends, there’s no question that they add extra responsibility to your already full plate. Even healthy animals need to be fed, exercised, cleaned up after, and given plenty of attention on a regular basis—and unhealthy ones can be a whole other story. “Pets can be the most positive source of unconditional love, but at the same time they require an extreme amount of energy,” says Yeager. People also tend to underestimate the stress they’ll experience when they lose a pet. “I’ve had people in my office tell me they cried more when their dog died than when their parent died. It’s a very emotional connection.”

Your education

Having a college degree boosts your odds of landing a well-paying job, so although you’re less likely to suffer from money-related anxiety, your education can bring on other types of stress, according to a 2014 study by Schieman and his University of Toronto colleagues. His research found that highly educated people were more likely to be stressed out thanks to job pressures, being overworked, and conflicts between work and family. “Higher levels of authority come with a lot more interpersonal baggage, such as supervising people or deciding whether they get promotions,” says Schieman. “With that type of responsibility, you start to take things like incompetency and people not doing their jobs more personally, and it bothers you more.”

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME Heart Disease

Depression and Stress Could Be ‘Perfect Storm’ for Heart Disease Patients

The combination of depression and stress may increase the chance of a patient dying of heart disease

Intense stress and depression in people with coronary heart disease creates a “perfect storm” that can increase the risk of death, according to a new study in the journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes.

Overall, patients with both conditions are nearly 50% more likely to die or experience a heart attack as a result of heart disease than those with low stress or depression. The results were most apparent in the first two and a half years after observation began.

“The increase in risk accompanying high stress and high depressive symptoms was robust and consistent across demographics, medical history, medication use and health-risk behaviors,” said lead study author Carmela Alcántara, a researcher at Columbia University Medical Center.

The study, which looked at nearly 4,500 adults, expanded on previous research that found that both depression and stress can independently increase the risk of heart disease. The study suggested that some previous research may have misattributed the cause of heart-disease death to stress or depression independently. In reality, the study suggests, the interaction between stress and depression may have led to death rather than either independent factor.

The study traced participants for an average of nearly six years and asked patients to self-report symptoms of depression and stress. Overall, 6.1% of study participants had both high stress and intense symptoms of depression. Only 5.6% of the total sample had high stress alone, and 7.7% had intense symptoms of depression alone.

Researchers said the results suggest that doctors may want to consider additional methods to treat heart disease that include interventions to treat stress and depression.

MONEY health

Americans Less Stressed—Except When It Comes to Money

woman on daybed with $100 bill over her
Zachary Scott—Getty Images

Gen Xers and millennials are the most anxious of all

Feeling anxious about money? You’re not alone. A new survey shows most Americans are at least somewhat stressed out by financial concerns. Moreover, low-income households are increasingly more stressed about money than those with higher-incomes, creating a “stress gap” between rich and poor.

The survey, conducted by American Psychological Association in August 2014, found a whopping 72% of Americans said they felt stressed out about money at some time during the past month, including 22% who said they experienced “extreme stress” during the previous 30 days (rating their stress as an 8, 9, or 10 on a 10-point scale). A large majority of respondents—64%—also said money is a somewhat or very significant source of stress in their lives, with young adults and Gen Xers reporting financial stress in even larger numbers.

That sounds pretty bad, and (spoiler!) it is. But the APA’s 2015 Stress in America report shows Americans are actually less worried about money than we’ve been at any time since 2007, when the survey began. Back then, 74% of Americans said money concerns caused them stress; that number peaked at 76% in 2010 before dropping 12 points over the next four years.

150204_EM_StressMoney_Chart
American Psychological Association

But just because our collective stress about money is decreasing doesn’t mean it isn’t causing problems. Almost 1 in 5 said they had either considered skipping or skipped going to the doctor for needed care due to financial concerns, and the APA says the average reported stress level—4.9 out of 10—is still higher than the 3.7 the group believes is healthy.

Diminishing overall stress also appears to have exposed a gap between richer and poorer Americans. In 2007, low-income households (those making less than $50,000 a year) and high-income households both reported the same levels of stress—6.2 out of 10. But in 2014, low-income households reported higher levels of stress (5.2) than wealthier ones (4.7).

For the APA, the results reinforce what they already knew: Stress is a major problem for the American people. Worse, high stress appears to have become the new normal. “Despite good news that overall stress levels are down, it appears the idea of living with stress higher than what we believe to be healthy and dealing with it in ineffective ways continues to be embedded in our culture,” said APA CEO Norman B. Anderson. He warns that all Americans, particularly those in groups most affected by stress, “need to address this issue sooner or later in order to better their health and well-being.”

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

Millennials and Gen Xers Feel the Most Stress About Money

511823541
John Holcroft—Getty Images/Ikon Images

Even with the improving economy, one population of Americans is more stressed about financial concerns than they were nearly a decade ago

In the latest survey of Stress in America conducted by the American Psychological Association (APA), money remained the top causes of stress reported by a group of more than 3,000 adults aged 18 years or older, followed by work, family and health concerns. Overall, the average level of stress, reported on a 10-point scale, is at its lowest since the APA began the survey in 2007.

But 29% of participants said that their anxiety over money matters increased in the past year, and younger generations and parents seem to be feeling the pinch most. More than one-third of parents reported higher stress levels over the past year (at 5.8) compared to non-parents (at 4.4).

Millennials and Gen Xers (aged 18 to 49 years) felt more stress than the average American about money. “Where Millennials are concerned, we know that the cost of education is pretty high in this country, and student debt is higher,” says Katherine Nordal, executive director of Professional Practice at the APA. “The job market until recently has also been problematic.”

The gap between financial stress between lower and higher income families is also widening; in 2007 both groups reported the same amount of anxiety over money, but in the current survey, those making less than $50,000 a year were twice as likely as those in higher income groups to feel stress about financial matters all or most of the time.

While the overall rate of stress about money is declining, Nordal says the trends involving younger generations and lower income households is concerning, because strategies for coping with stress aren’t improving, despite greater awareness of its health risks. One in five Americans said they did not have anyone to turn to for emotional support; 27% of those in lower income households fall into this category, compared to 17% of those in higher income groups. “Good support systems seem to be good for reducing stress — it’s not an inoculation against stress but it can be a stress reduction factor,” says Nordal.

Lack of emotional support can also drive people to unhealthy coping mechanisms, including over-eating, not sleeping well and becoming more sedentary. Forty-two percent of respondents said they indulged in such behaviors to cope with their stress in the past month. “Excessive alcohol use, smoking, eating the wrong kinds of foods, not exercising and being too sedentary we know are behaviors that lead to disease states, and unhealthy states,” says Nordal. “And these health risks are very real. We’d like to see people doing things that are more proactive to cope with stress, such as meditation, relaxation techniques and exercise.”

TIME psychology

3 Steps to Minimizing Stress at Work

man-stressed-sitting-desk
Getty Images

Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

1) Know What Really Works

Most of the things you instinctively do to relieve stress don’t work.

Via The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do To Get More of It:

The APA’s national survey on stress found that the most commonly used strategies were also rated as highly ineffective by the same people who reported using them. For example, only 16 percent of people who eat to reduce stress report that it actually helps them. Another study found that women are most likely to eat chocolate when they are feeling anxious or depressed, but the only reliable change in mood they experience from their drug of choice is an increase in guilt.

So what does work?

According to the American Psychological Association, the most effective stress-relief strategies are exercising or playing sports, praying or attending a religious service, reading, listening to music, spending time with friends or family, getting a massage, going outside for a walk, meditating or doing yoga, and spending time with a creative hobby. (The least effective strategies are gambling, shopping, smoking, drinking, eating, playing video games, surfing the Internet, and watching TV or movies for more than two hours.)

2) It’s All About A Feeling Of Control

As is often said, stress isn’t about what happens to you, it’s how you react to it. This is true.

We’re not as stressed when we feel in control. Again, the emphasis is on feel. Even illusory feelings of control can eliminate stress. (This is the secret to why idiots and crazy people may feel far less stress than those who see a situation clearly.)

Anything that increases your perception of control over a situation — whether it actually increases your control or not — can substantially decrease your stress level.

Via Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long:

Steve Maier at the University of Boulder, in Colorado, says that the degree of control that organisms can exert over something that creates stress determines whether the stressor alters the organism’s functioning. His findings indicate that only uncontrollable stressors cause deleterious effects. Inescapable or uncontrollable stress can be destructive, whereas the same stress that feels escapable is less destructive, significantly so… Over and over, scientists see that the perception of control over a stressor alters the stressor’s impact.

Why do people choose to become entrepreneurs when working for yourself often means more hours for less money? Control:

A number of studies show “work-life balance” as the main reason people start their own small businesses. Yet small business owners often work more hours, for less money, than in corporate life. The difference? You are able to make more of your own choices.

Do things that increase your control of a situation ahead of time. According to one study, the stress management technique that worked best was deliberately planning your day so that stress is minimized.

The best way to reduce job stress is to get a clear idea of what is expected of you.

The trick to not worrying about work stuff while at home is to make specific plans to address concerns before you leave the office.

3) You Need Some Stress To Be Your Best

Heavy time pressure stresses you out and kills creativity. On the other hand, having no deadlines is not optimal either. Low-to-moderate time pressure produces the best results.

Via The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work:

If managers regularly set impossibly short time-frames or impossibly high workloads, employees become stressed, unhappy, and unmotivated—burned out. Yet, people hate being bored. it was rare for any participant in our study to report a day with very low time pressure, such days—when they did occur—were also not conducive to positive inner work life. In general, then, low-to-moderate time pressure seems optimal for sustaining positive thoughts, feelings, and drives.

In his book The Art of Learning, Josh Waitzkin discusses one of the key elements that pro athletes like Jordan use to perform at their peak: spontaneous relaxation.

“…one of the most telling features of a dominant performer is the routine use of recovery periods.”

They’re not Zen masters who experience no stress. Far from it. But they’ve taught themselves to turn it on and off. The pros are able to fully relax during the briefest periods of rest. This prevents them from burning out during hours of play.

Via The Art of Learning:

The physiologists at LGE had discovered that in virtually every discipline, one of the most telling features of a dominant performer is the routine use of recovery periods. Players who are able to relax in brief moments of inactivity are almost always the ones who end up coming through when the game is on the line… Remember Michael Jordan sitting on the bench, a towel on his shoulders, letting it all go for a two-minute break before coming back in the game? Jordan was completely serene on the bench even though the Bulls desperately needed him on the court. He had the fastest recovery time of any athlete I’ve ever seen.

One Last Thing:

I’m stressed RIGHT NOW!!! What’s the quickest, easiest thing to do?!?!?!

Watching a video of a cute animal can reduce heart rate and blood pressure in under a minute.

Via Richard Wiseman’s excellent book 59 Seconds: Change Your Life in Under a Minute:

In an innovative study, Deborah Wells examined whether merely looking at a video of an animal can have the same type of calming and restorative effects as those created by being in its company… compared to the two control conditions, all three animal videos made the participants feel much more relaxed. To help reduce your heart rate and blood pressure in less than a minute, go online and watch a video of a cute animal.

Here you go:

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Join over 151,000 readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.

Related posts:

How To Stop Being Lazy And Get More Done – 5 Expert Tips

6 Things The Most Productive People Do Every Day

New Harvard Research Reveals A Fun Way To Be More Successful

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

Your browser is out of date. Please update your browser at http://update.microsoft.com