TIME psychology

3 Steps to Minimizing Stress at Work

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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.

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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.

TIME Careers & Workplace

Try This Life-Changing Stress Hack for a More Relaxed 2015

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Have you heard of the Alexander technique?

Have you ever looked at a picture of Atlas, the mythological Greek figure carrying the weight of the planet on his shoulders and thought, Yeah, I can relate?

As an entrepreneur, it often feels like you have the weight of the world on your shoulders. Once you become the leader of a company, you feel a responsibility to employees, their families, your customers and your family. You worry about not having enough money for payroll or rent at the end of the month, the irate customer, maxed-out credit cards, creating new business opportunities and fitting in a life outside the office.

Yes, entrepreneurship is stressful and it can beat you down sometimes. But your company is part of who you are. So to become the best version of yourself, find a way to destress and regain some balance in your life.

Over the years, I’ve dealt with stress in many ways: running, exercising, visualization, drinking inordinate amounts of chamomile tea and even laughing it off with Family Guy. All these things helped me feel calmer for a while, but none has contributed to my success quite like practicing the Alexander technique.

Developed in the late 19th century by Frederick Matthias Alexander, the Alexander technique involves mindfully trying to rid the body of harmful muscular and mental tension to overcome stress, redirect energy, correct bad posture, eliminate back pain and improve mental clarity. This practice is time-efficient, portable and easy to learn.

I began practicing the Alexander technique with an instructor about a year ago. Since then, I’ve had noticeably better vocal control and inflection. I feel that this practice has improved my public-speaking skills and helped me think more clearly in tense or high-pressure situations. And it’s helped me find balance in life. Each session lets me relax my body, center my mind and achieve a sense of peace, despite my high-stress entrepreneurial endeavors.

The Alexander technique can work for anyone in any industry and it’s easy to get started.

Related: Conquer Stress and Master Sleep for a Richer Life

1. Find an instructor.

I strongly recommend finding a certified instructor to guide you through your first few attempts. As is the case for yoga, the Alexander technique is something you’ll be able to do on your own after a few well-explained sessions.

2. Master lie downs.

The Alexander technique consists of two basic components, the first of which is the lie down. To give it a try, sit two or three books on a relatively hard surface and lie down with your head on the books.

Put your hands on your chest with your knees up and feet flat on the ground. Your eyes can be open or closed, but don’t go to sleep. Breathe normally and release yourself into gravity’s hold, letting your body’s weight settle into the floor. This will rest and realign the parts of your body that are constantly being used for stabilization when you’re upright.

Related: During Your Next Launch, Don’t Neglect Self-Care

3. Release your tension.

The second component of the Alexander technique is learning how to release the neck. You aim to release (not just relax) the atlantooccipital joint that controls the muscular tension throughout the entire body.

While in the lie-down position, feel the muscles at the top of your spine by placing your fingers in your ears and thinking about the joint between your fingers (a little bump where your spine connects). Then, focus on releasing all muscular tension in that area while breathing deeply. Once an instructor guides you through this move a few times, you’ll be able to do it easily on your own.

There are many ways to destress, but I’ve never found a method as effective and far-reaching as the Alexander technique. By learning how to relax the muscles throughout your entire body on command, you can also gain control of your voice, posture, energy and overall stress. It’s the one tool that might truly help you take the weight off your shoulders and become a better, more successful you.

Related: The Physical and Emotional Truths of Entrepreneurship

This article originally appeared on Entrepreneur.com.

TIME mental health

The Link Between Mental Trauma and Diabetes

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Women with more PTSD symptoms appear to be at a higher risk for Type 2 diabetes, a new study says

Women with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have a two-fold increased risk for type 2 diabetes, according to a new study.

“When we are under stress we are more likely to get sick, but women with PTSD are in this extreme stress response a lot of the time,” says study author Karestan Koenen, an epidemiology professor at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. The new study, published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry, looked at 49,739 women participating in the Nurses’ Health Study II to assess the link between PTSD symptoms and type 2 diabetes over 22 years. They found that women with the most symptoms had double the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, and that the association increased based on the number of symptoms women experienced.

“It’s so important that people understand PTSD isn’t just in veterans. Most PTSD is just in regular people in the community,” says Koenen. One of the most surprising findings in the study was that using antidepressants and having a higher body mass index (BMI) accounted for about half of the increased risk for type 2 diabetes in women with PTSD. Past research has linked PTSD to having a higher BMI, with some research suggesting that elevated stress response could result in cravings for highly caloric food and lead to weight gain.

The antidepressant link is the most unexpected. An obvious explanation for the link is that some antidepressants cause weight gain, but the researchers argue weight gain isn’t caused by all antidepressants and therefore cannot account for all of the effect. “It’s probably one of the most interesting findings and I don’t have a good explanation for it,” says Koenen.

The researchers say it’s possible that extreme stress can cause changes in the regulation of the body’s immune system, inflammation markers and hormones, which could contribute to the onset of type 2 diabetes.

Ultimately, Koenen believes the study is important because it provides further evidence that medicine can benefit from a more holistic look at patients that includes not just disease but also mental health and psychology. “Our health care system acts like the brain and the body are two separate things. This is just one of hundreds of studies that have now shown that mental health affects physical health and mental health,” she says. “We need a more integrated medical system where the mind and body are worked on together.”

Koenen, who used to work in veterans affairs, says veterans have been asking for such care for a long time, with studies and surveys showing patients often ask for alternative services like yoga. “Patients understand this but the medical system hasn’t caught up,” she says.

TIME psychology

12 Ways to Easily Eliminate Stress

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

  1. Remind yourself how unimportant your worries are in the big scheme of things.
  2. Making lots of decisions can burn you out. Automate as many things as you can.
  3. Watching a video of a cute animal can reduce heart rate and blood pressure in under a minute.
  4. Ladies, drink coffee. Guys, don’t.
  5. Another key element of stress is where you focus your attention. Think about benign outcomes or concentrate on the positive.
  6. According to one study, the stress management technique that worked best was deliberately planning your day so that stress is minimized. The trick to not worrying about work stuff while at home is to make specific plans to address concerns before you leave the office.
  7. The difference between a fun challenge and stressful work is often just a feeling of control. The best way to reduce job stress is to get a clear idea of what is expected of you. Stop working overtime; it’s not worth it.
  8. Art reduces stress in men. Good music can increase pain tolerance and decrease anxiety.Classical music is the most relaxing genre.
  9. Booze does reduce anxiety and punching things does make men feel better… which, frankly, explains a lot.
  10. If you have to worry, set aside a specific time during the day to do all your worrying. Before a stressful event write all your worries down.
  11. Understand the secrets to willpower, breaking bad habits, productivity, beating procrastination and achieving goals.
  12. No matter what happens, you will probably be fine.

Still stressed? Here are 15 more:

  1. Talk to yourself.
  2. Lean back instead of leaning forward.
  3. Have more sex.
  4. Watch comedy.
  5. Spend more time with friends.
  6. Be compassionate.
  7. Take fish oil.
  8. Stand up straight.
  9. Meditate.
  10. Garden.
  11. Chew gum.
  12. Smell vanilla.
  13. Nap.
  14. Eat salt.
  15. Spend time in nature.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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

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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.

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

How to Not Lose it When People Are Driving You Insane

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Is your family already driving you insane? Read on

This holiday, make it a priority to not rip your hair out.

To help you survive the season, we asked psychologist Pauline Wallin, author of Taming Your Inner Brat, for some tips on how to avoid some of the most common pitfalls of the holidays. (But if Aunt Susie drinks too much egg nog, we can’t help you).

If your family is driving you crazy…
One of the best parts of the holidays can also be one of the worst parts of the holidays. Spending quality time with family doesn’t happen often for most of us, but with the expectations of the holidays and the increased amount of face time, it’s easy for someone to lose their lid. Here’s how to cool it.
For parents: You have guests coming, and the bums you call your children are doing a lousy job at cleaning. To avoid this stresser, lay out your expectations early. “When you feel like other people are driving you crazy, it’s often because they don’t have the same sense of urgency that you do,” says Wallin. Instead, tell your kids ahead of time that the house needs to be clean by 10 a.m., or that you are going to be stressed and would appreciate it if they stay out of your way. It’s an easy way to start out on the same page.
For kids and teens: If you really don’t want to go to Aunt Susie’s for dinner, get over it by finding a way to make it count. Think of it as a gift to your family to spend time with them without giving anyone ‘tude. If you’re really feeling irked, ask kindly for a little time alone. Go on a walk, read a book for an hour, or offer to get out of the house and grab groceries.

If someone spills something or you burn the roast…
Take a picture of it. Seriously, pull out that smart phone and snap a photo of the disaster. “If you’re going to laugh about it later, you might as well laugh about it now,” says Wallin. No dinner party is immune to a rip or spill or the tragic loss of the Christmas goose. Laugh it off, post it to Instagram, and move on.

If you’re stressed about the cost of all those presents…
Do you remember what you received for Christmas last year? Probably not. Wallin says one of the most common stressers she sees among patients around the holidays is financial stress. “But never once have I heard someone say, ‘I’ve never forgiven them for not getting me the new iPhone.'” We tend to put a lot of weight on the presents, but guests are more likely to remember the moments shared than what was in the stocking. So try not to stress about finding the perfect gift, and there’s zero shame in bargain hunting.

If your to-do list alone is freaking you out…
This year, instead of making a “To Do” list, make a “To Don’t” list. “Decide what you’re not going to do, and just let it go,” says Wallin. “It’s a tremendous sense of relief.” If you can’t figure out when you’re going to have time for caroling, just skip it. If you don’t have time (or don’t want to make time) for home-baked cookies, don’t both! You don’t have to do everything. If it’s more stress than it’s worth, it won’t be that fun.

If you’re not feeling any warm, fuzzy, holiday feelings…
Instead of scrambling to make everything perfect, carve out time to just sit and talk to friends and family. “We get so busy that we forget the holidays are about people,” says Wallin. Get everyone off the grid and ask for cell phones to be put away while you play a game or watch a movie. Even just taking 20 minutes to sit with a family member you don’t regularly see is a great way to remember to the real meaning of the season.

TIME advice

7 Tips for Managing Holiday Stress

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Keep calm, carry on, and let go

It’s that time of year again. Between the endless parties and obligations, visiting with friends and family (and sometimes avoiding certain friends and family), not to mention navigating decadent table spreads and endless office baked goods, it’s no wonder we sometimes dread the holiday season. Rest assured, there is a way you can manage the inevitable holiday stress and glide to a new year with balance, poise, and at least most of your sanity in tact.

The key thing for managing holiday stress is to realize that we often can’t change the situations around us, but that we can change how we interact and respond in these situations. Which means, proper stress management starts with you…

1. Take care of yourself.

Know your limits. Make sure to get enough sleep, drink water, balance your eating (which of course includes a cookie or two!) and most important, keep your sense of humor handy. This is supposed to be a joyful season, full of good times and many laughs. Sometimes that means laughing at yourself.

2. Say no.

Thank you so much for the invitation, but we have another engagement.”

Now isn’t that a nice way of saying no? It’s likely that you won’t be able to–or want to–attend every party or engagement that you’re invited to, so here’s a chance to prioritize which ones you’d like to attend and politely decline (with appropriate notice) the rest.

MORE Merry Stress-mess: How to Not Go Crazy During the Holidays

3. Keep calm, carry on, and let go.

You’ve likely seen these “Keep Calm, Carry On” signs everywhere. As simple as they might seem, they’re such a good reminder. One of the best tactics for holiday stress management is to learn what you can control and let go of the rest. Don’t let the hustle and bustle of the holidays overwhelm you. Keep calm in the moment by taking a deep breath, thinking before you speak, and remembering that whatever’s stressing you right this moment is not likely going to matter in one hour, or even one year. Keep your focus on the joy of the season and have fun.

4. Have a little grace.

As women, we put so much focus on small details and often lose track of the overall picture. I can bet you a nicely frosted gingerbread cookie that no one’s going to be focusing on those little details half as much as you are. Let go of control and have grace with yourself. Everyone forgets to serve a dish, or perfectly wrap some gift. Repeat mantra from above: “Keep calm, carry on.

5. Accept help.

Just like you don’t have to control everything, you don’t have to do it on your own. Let someone bring a dish to the dinner party, and then let your friends help you do the dishes when they meal’s over.

6. Get rid of useless worry.

There’s a difference between worry and planning. Trust that you’ll handle situations that might come up and focus on what’s truly in your control. Perhaps you could mentally walk through a situation that could be stressful and practice your response. Plan ahead what you can to minimize stress.

The last step for stress management ends with you…

MORE How to Prepare for the Holiday Vacation

7. Choose.

Everyone finds themselves in situations that aren’t preferable. Cue the awkward family dinner or significant other’s office Christmas party. In those uncomfortable moments, you choose your memories. How much fun you have is entirely up to you. You can focus on all the reasons why you’d rather be at home with some spiked eggnog in pajamas, or you can be present in the moment and make the choice to put forth an effort and find the good in your current situation.

So when you start to feel overwhelmed by too much family pressure or obligation, all the little details or overwhelming stress of presents and parties, remember that this is the season of joy. Trust that you can and will navigate holiday stress by taking care of yourself, setting and knowing your boundaries, and choosing how you respond.

This article originally appeared on Levo.com

TIME Research

5 Science-Backed Reasons Why Music is Good for You

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Next time you’re preparing for a work presentation, crank up the Bach

Music is a powerful medium: Not only does it make us want to jump to our feet and “shake it off, shake it off” (thanks Taylor Swift), but soul-stirring tunes also can help us fight through myriad health challenges as well. Here are five great reasons to pump up the jams, and listen with intent:

It can help ease pain

Feeling achy? A study conducted in the journal Frontiers in Psychology found that when fibromyalgia patients were exposed to 10-minutes of music they liked—anything from pop to folk to classical—that was slower than 120 beats per minute, they experienced less pain versus when they listened to pink noise. The participants also saw an increase in their mobility with the music.

HEALTH.COM: 7 Tricks for Instant Calm

It could help you focus

Next time you’re preparing for a work presentation or studying for something, listen to a little Vivaldi or Bach. A 2007 study from the Stanford University School of Medicine found that tuning into music from the late baroque period, leads to changes in the brain (recorded by an fMRI scan) that help with attention and storing events into memory.

It elevates workout performance

We all know that bopping to Beyoncé can be a lifesaver during that cardio kickboxing class, but did you know it could also be the key to successfully sweating through those unbelievably grueling high-intensity interval training (HIIT) sessions, too? Researchers had 20 active adults perform two interval workouts—four, 30-second “all-out” cycling sprints with four minutes of rest in between—one with music and one without. Those who sweated to beats not only found the interval training much more enjoyable, but it also revved them up, making them exercise harder, too.

HEALTH.COM: 10 Mood-Boosting Meals

It cheers you up

As we creep into the colder months, those winter blues have a way of raining on our happiness parade. Luckily, music is a proven spirit saver. According to a 2011 study published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, certain classical tunes caused folks to get the chills, which in turn led to the release of dopamine, a chemical in the brain that can help you feel jollier. To reap this mood-boosting benefit, download “Clair de Lune,” by Claude Debussy, “New World Symphony—Movement 4,” by Antonin Dvorak, and “First Breath After Coma” by Alexander Keats—they have all been scientifically proven to keep you in good cheer.

It can keep you calm

Switching to mellow music during a stressful drive may prevent road rage and even help you drive better, according to a 2013 study in the journal Ergonomics. Researchers found that upbeat music made people happy, but as soon as the drive became demanding, an abrupt dial change to more soothing tunes kept study participants calmer and boosted driving ability better than those who didn’t change the station as quickly.

HEALTH.COM: 12 Worst Habits For Your Mental Health

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME Exercise/Fitness

5 Reasons to Exercise That Aren’t Weight Loss

Why you shouldn't give up the gym

Despite conventional calorie-burning wisdom, some people appear to not lose weight when they exercise, says a new study published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. In fact, some actually gain weight, and it’s not all muscle mass.

The study, by Arizona State University in Phoenix researchers, looked at 81 sedentary, overweight women who exercised three times a week for 30 minutes in a lab. After 12 weeks, the researchers found that some women lost weight while others gained weight. But when they tried to identify what was causing the differences, they couldn’t come to any conclusions. “In reality, most people do not achieve or sustain weight loss, no matter what method they try,” wrote New York Times writer Gretchen Reynolds on Wednesday.

Basically, major bummer. But there are many other reasons to exercise besides trying to shed a few pounds, and they’re equally important for your health:

1. Memory Loss: Chronic inflammation and hormonal imbalances are a couple of factors that can play a part in memory loss, and exercise can help both. Exercise promotes better blood flow through the body, and the brain works better with a healthy blood supply. For example, a 2012 study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease showed that people who spent time on a stationary bike had better memory recall than those who were sedentary.

2. Stress: Exercise has long been prescribed as a way to burn off steam and relax. It’s even recommended as a way to fight depression. How? Exercise keeps the brain occupied, and keeps the stress hormone cortisol in check which can lower symptoms for anxiety and restlessness, according to The Exercise Cure, by sports medicine physician Dr. Jordan Metzl. After a rough day at work or before a big exam or interview, even just a walk around the block can ease nerves.

3. Fatigue: It may sound counterintuitive, but working out can actually make you less tired than skipping the gym. A 2007 University of Georgia study showed that sedentary people could lower their fatigue by 65% if they started engaging in regular low intensity exercise. Increasing energy through exercise is also a safer and cheaper alternative to turning to quick fixes like energy drinks.

4. Cardiovascular disease: Getting regular exercise does the heart some good. In a 2012 study, researchers found that people who partook in moderate intensity exercise like brisk walking compared to leisurely walking reduced their chances of developing risk factors for heart disease and diabetes. The effect might be related to exercise’s benefits on lowering inflammation in the body.

5. Lower back pain: Back pain is a very common ailment, and studies have shown that the right kind of exercises like strength training can lower pain. Exercise is also one of the simplest ways to protect your body from future injuries.

 

TIME advice

One Easy Way to Tell if You’re Susceptible to Stress

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Heart rates correlate with levels of psychological distress

This article originally appeared on Refinery29.com.

Stress affects us all in different ways. But, some of us are just a little more vulnerable to the nasty ways stress can mess with us. And, now, researchers at Concordia University have found that variations in heart rate may be a predictor of stress susceptibility.

In the study, published in this month’s issue of the journal Stress, 76 undergraduate students first completed an online questionnaire to assess their levels of stress, anxiety, and depression during a low-stress period of the academic year. Then, in the lab, they had their baseline heart rate measured for seven minutes. Next, while their heart rate was still being monitored, participants were asked to worry about something in the future that could potentially have a negative influence on their life for five minutes. After this “free worry period,” the participants were interviewed about their personal worries, and were asked to rate how likely and how awful each future consequence would be. Then, about three months later, right before finals week, the participants were given another mood questionnaire.

(MORE: The 9 Worst Ways Stress Messes With You)

It turned out that the variation of participants’ heart rates was correlated with their levels of psychological distress. Specifically, a lower resting rate during the low-stress time frame, combined with a higher level of reactivity in respiratory sinus arrhythmia (the way our heart rate naturally varies with our breathing patterns) in response to the worry conditions, was linked to more drastic changes in psychological distress during the high-stress time period. This means that those participants with lower variable heart rates (but also higher levels of change) had higher increases in anxiety ratings.

(MORE: Target Heart Rate: You’re Doing It Wrong)

So, this suggests that health professionals might be able to use our heart rate variability (based on the interbeat interval, which is pretty easy to measure) to screen for people who are particularly susceptible to the negative effects of stress. It also suggests that heart rate might be a good target for those of us trying to relieve anxiety — which indicates that breathing techniques and focusing on the present rather than the future could be especially useful stress-relief tips. And, there’s already technology on the way to help us out. But, even without the gadgets, finding your zen should be a definite priority.

(MORE: This Is The Best Way To Beat Stress)

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

Answering Emails After Work Is Bad For Your Health

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The new science on "telepressure"

Email was supposed to free up time in workplace communications: Send some in lieu of an in-person meeting! Work remotely! Take your time crafting one instead of blurting out something stupid!

But now that everyone is so instantly reachable, work email has slipped its tentacles into our off-the-clock lives, subtly demanding evening responses and extending the workday indefinitely. Now, 52% of Americans check their e-mail before and after work, even when they take a sick day; ignoring email can seem more stressful than dashing off a quick response. But all that continuous connection comes at a cost to our health, finds new research published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology.

Larissa Barber, PhD, assistant professor of psychology at Northern Illinois University, has a name for this phenomenon: telepressure. It’s the urge to respond immediately to work-related messages, no matter when they come. “It’s like your to-do list is piling up, so you’re cognitively ruminating over these things in the evening and re-exposing yourself to workplace stressors,” Barber says.

This continuous work connection has very real health effects, the study found: employees who reported more telepressure also reported worse sleep, higher levels of burnout and more health-related absences from work. “When people don’t have this recovery time, it switches them into an exhaustion state, so they go to work the next day not being engaged,” Barber says.

Why do we feel this need to reply so fast? Nobody’s forcing us to respond—only 21% of workplaces have policies about communication use outside of work hours, found a 2012 survey from the Society of Human Resource Management. “It’s so new to us, this idea of boundary-less work, that we’re just not sure how to manage it yet,” Barber says.

Barber’s study also looked at whether individual traits predicted who felt telepressured, or if being a type-A overachiever made you more or less susceptible than those with more laidback working habits. Her results revealed that individual differences are only weakly associated—telepressure is a workplace problem, not a worker problem. We learn how to respond to email through our colleagues’ behavior, she found, and it’s a consequence of the social dynamics within a work environment.

“‘As soon as possible’ means different things to different people, but of course if you’re nervous about impressing your boss or coworkers, you probably think it needs to be immediately,” says Barber.

How can you make yourself a little less telestressed? First, think about where your own telepressure is coming from, Barber says. It may be worth having a conversation with your supervisor about email expectations—or, if you’re the boss, try to be a good role model for connectivity and recovery, Barber says.

Changing the conversational nature of your emails also helps. “We’ll talk to people like we’re having those synchronous conversations, face-to-face,” she says. “We’ll send an email and say, ‘Hey, what do you want to do for lunch today?’” Conversational back-and-forth emails like that all but demand an immediate response, partly because it seems rude not to reply. But being explicit about the purpose and timeline of your email really helps. Barber keeps a kind of email office hours, letting her inquirers know what time she’s available to answer messages. She ends her emails to me with phrases like “No need to respond to this message” and “I look forward to hearing from you between 8:30-11:30am tomorrow”—and it does feel pretty satisfying.

But as much as we hate being telepressured, we absolutely love telepressuring others. “We all get kind of used to that immediate gratification of getting fast responses and having those communications that are complete,” Barber says. “We all like it when other people are telepressured, because it helps us complete our tasks faster.” Still, it’s neither sustainable nor good for our health—and it might take an email revolution of a different sort to change things.

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