By Dr. Stephen Pfeiffer
In general, when most people think about stress, they imagine the workplace – demanding bosses with last-minute requests, needy clients, difficult co-workers, the piling up of emails and voicemails, etc. But even for those with a happy family life, the home can oftentimes feel more taxing than work.
A recent study conducted by researches at Penn State University and published in Social Science & Medicine found significantly and consistently lower levels of cortisol, a hormone released in response to stress, in a majority of subjects when they were at work compared with when they were at home. Researchers taught the participants to test their own cortisol levels six times a day as well as report where they were, how stressed they felt, and how happy they were. The majority of subjects had, on average, lower levels of cortisol at work than at home, regardless of what their occupation was, whether they were married or single, or even if they liked their job or not.
While both men and women showed less stress at work, women were more likely to report they were feeling happier there, while more men reported they were happier at home. Researchers say this may be a result of women still being the primary care-givers at home, responsible for most of the daily household duties.
But experts speculate there are several reasons why people may feel less stress at work. “Paid work is more valuable in society,” says Sarah Damaske, assistant professor of labor and employment relations, sociology and women’s studies at Penn State. “Household work is monotonous and not particularly rewarding.”
Damaske also goes on to say that we are more likely to feel appreciated at work while many of our efforts at home may go unnoticed. There is also a behavioral etiquette at work that carries a certain level of respect for others, while at home, stress and frustration is often contagious.
One important take-away from these findings is that it is critical to address and properly deal with any issues we may be having at home. At work, we are forced do deal with problems because of supervisors, deadlines, and simply the fact that we are being paid to do so. While at home, however, it may be easier to sweep growing problems under the rug; we convince ourselves that we will deal with them later, maybe when there is more time. But our home and family should be our sanctuary, a place where we feel loved, supported, and where we can relax and unwind from our busy day.
If you are feeling an inordinate amount of stress – at work or at home – please don’t hesitate to contact me at Stephen@PfeifferPhD.com or at my website www.pfeifferphd.com.