Monday, November 17, 2014

Not Enough Work, Too Much Positivity

English: Worker assembling rebar for water tre...
English: Worker assembling rebar for water treatment plant in Mazatlan, Sinaloa, Mexico. Česky: Dělník pracuje na výstavbě čističky vody ve městě Mazatlán, v mexickém státě Sinaloa Français : Ouvrier assemblant l'armature d'une centrale de traitement des eaux. Photo prise à Mazatlán, dans l'état de Sinaloa (Mexique). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Is there a way to easily find the right balance? How to we strike the middle ground, and not be underloaded, nor overloaded?


The dangers of stress are well-documented – sleep loss, anxiety, depression, stomach problems, obesity, headaches. We have long been warned that stress could be killing us. But some of us may be at risk of the opposite: being bored to death.

Recent research shows that being underworked can be as unhealthy as being overworked, Alina Tugend reported in The Times.” In essence, boredom is stressful,” she wrote.

“We tend to think of stress in the original engineering way, that too much weight on a bridge causes it to collapse,” Paul E. Spector, a professor of psychology at the University of South Florida, told the Times. “It’s more complicated.”

Professor Spector and other researchers say too little work (called underload), can cause problems associated with stress: muscles tension, stomachaches and headaches.

A study published this year in the journal Experimental Brain Research found that subjects watching a boring movie – men hanging laundry – showed greater signs of stress than those watching a sad movie.

James Danckert, a professor of neuroscience at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, and a co-author of that paper, said boredom is not so much laziness as the profound inability to engage with the environment. “It’s aggressively dissatisfying,” he told The Times.

Professor Spector and his colleagues say that the stress of boredom at work can lead to calling in sick, taking long breaks, spending time on the Internet, gossiping about colleagues, playing practical jokes or even stealing. Most workers engage in those activities, but those who are bored do it more often.

So the trick is to manage stress, and it seems that women are better at that than men, at least in some situations.

“Neuroscientists have uncovered evidence suggesting that, when the pressure is on, women bring unique strengths to decision making.” Therese Huston, a cognitive psychologist at Seattle University, wrote in The Times.

Researchers set up a variety of situation in which subjects were forced to gamble, and came up with similar findings: Men took more risks when stressed, trying to score big wins, even when they were costly and less likely.

Ruud van den Bos, a neurobiologist at Radboud University in the Netherlands, and his colleagues discovered that risk-taking under pressure is stronger in men who experience a larger spike in cortisol, a hormone associated with stress, Professor Huston reported. But a slight increase in cortisol seemed to help women with decision-making.

In a 2007 study in which men and women were both exposed to a stressful event, Stephanie Preston, a
 Cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Michigan, found that women tended to look for smaller, surer wins as time grew shorter. For men, their decision-making became more questionable as the deadline approached, and they were less aware that they had pursued a risky strategy.

Too much positive thinking can be risky strategy as well, at least according to Gabriele Oettingen, professor of psychology at New York University and the University of Hamburg.

Professor Oettingen and her colleagues have performed numerous studies showing that people who fantasized about happy results were less likely to realize their dreams. Dreaming about the future helps people calm down and reduces systolic blood pressure – in essence, lowering stress levels – but means they have less energy to achieve their goals.

“Positive thinking fools our minds into perceiving that we’ve already attained our goal,” she cautioned, “slackening our readiness to pursue it.”

Taken from TODAY Saturday Edition, November 1, 2014