Posts Tagged "stress"

Midlife mishap: blurring the boundaries between work and home

Posted by on Dec 7, 2012 in aging, work, Work/occupation | 3 comments

Telecommuting is the new black, right?

Not so fast.

Researchers say that while telecommuting (i.e. working regularly but not exclusively at home) has gained traction in the American workplace, the foothold remains elusive and the proportion of workers with flexible work options has been essentially flat over the past decade and a half. Additionally, the number of hours that workers actually telecommute on a weekly basis is less than one full day, a mere six hours. Although the reasons for this are numerous, it appears that managers remain reluctant to relinquish supervisory control, even though on average, telecommuters work harder and longer than their colleagues who are tied to their office chairs.

Do the math: Fewer telecommuting hours still equates to longer working hours.

What this brings to mind is the potential impact that telecommuting has on our lives outside of work, especially when work takes place at home? And how does this impact in turn, affect stress, which of course, has been linked to worsening of menopausal symptoms such as weight gain, hot flashes and depression?

I have been working at home for 20 years now, having started a business in 1992. While I am not a telecommuter, I am very aware of the black hole that one can fall into and how that has affected my ability to shut it down after a certain time of day. This ability has grown more difficult the more connected the world is and I find that I am consistently interrupted by clients during gym workouts, breaks, early morning coffee reentries and late day ratchet down.

Data demonstrate that my experience is often the norm and not the exception.

Let’s take a look at what the research shows. Analyzing trends from two national data sources — the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 Panel and the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Study — Sociology Professors Mary Noonen and Jennifer Glass from the University of Texas at Austin learned that while the number of weekly telecommuting hours is relatively modest (just 6 hours, per above), most of the 30% of respondents who work from home add at least five to seven hours to their work week. In fact, 50% to 67% of telecommuting hours reported in these surveys push work hours past the 40 hour workweek model and are essentially overtime work. Just think: if you feel that you are already pushed to the brim in the office and volley for work at home hours, you may actually be relocating hours but not eliminating them. Moreover, your employer may be raising his or her expectations not only of what you deliver but when, including evenings and weekends.

Study findings also show that there is a misconception that telecommuting is more prevalent among parents with dependent children. In fact, parents are not likelier than the general population to work from home; rather authority and status in the workplace appear to drive telecommuting hours.

The researchers note that “telecommuting is intrinsically linked to information technologies that facilitate 24/7 communication between clients, coworkers and supervisors [thereby] potentially increasing the penetration of work tasks into home time.” A 2008 Pew Study supports this contention, demonstrating that the majority of ‘wired workers’ use technology to perform work tasks, even while sick or on vacation.

The perils run deep when the boundaries become blurry between work and home. Moreover, over wired means overload, and the ability to shut off our brains becomes increasingly difficult. Adrenal fatigue may set in, where after prolonged periods of cortisol production overdrive, the adrenal glands can no longer keep up with outside stressors and the body’s demand to handle stress and protect the immune system. In turn, the ability to handle life stressors declines.

Do blurred boundaries yield diminishing returns, midlife mishaps, a mishmash of expectations?

What do you think?



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Stressed? Try Baking. That’s What Wendy Scherer Does…

Posted by on Oct 12, 2012 in stress | 4 comments

My sister in law Wendy Scherer is a baker (that is, when she is not being an amazing mom, a wife and crunching social data all day long). For my birthday this year, she baked me a beautiful three berry pie. And she regularly posts images of her creations – a challah for Sabbath, a Tuscan Ricotto Bread, you name it.

But Wendy bakes when she is stressed. And of late,  I’ve noticed that she has ramped up her baking. And I’m wondering if I should try it too.

She wrote this a few years back and it still resonates.

Why I bake...

I am not a cook. Ask anyone.

I don’t like to cook. And frankly, I’m just not that good at it. I don’t have the patience to cut things into similar sized pieces, nor do I care. I don’t like picking out just the right recipe, reading Cooks Illustrated, or having to time out components to a meal.

I’m quite fortunate that I have a husband who not only loves to cook, but makes terrific food. And considering that I do like to eat well, it’s a pretty cushy deal for me.

When Andrew is out for the night and I’m in charge, I admit I can cook a few things. Quiche, lasagna, chicken pot pie, spaghetti, scrambled eggs, hot dogs. That’s just the beginning of my vast repertoire, but think you get the picture.

Cooking stresses me out. The opposite is true of baking. I lose myself in it. Kneading bread is one of my greatest joys. I know what it should feel like and it’s exciting when it’s just so. Getting the crust to the exact right place before rolling it out. Now, there’s joy. Baking is precise in its proportions. I like that. It’s order. But it’s not science to make it wonderful; that is spirit, gut, instinct.

It just is.

I’ve always baked to relax. To de-stress. It’s like therapy to me, only much, much cheaper.  I mean seriously, what costs less than yeast and flour? And I don’t need an appointment, either. The kitchen is open 24/7. And the best part is that I don’t have to eat the goods. There is nothing easier than getting rid of a rustic French loaf, an apple pie, and extra challah, or baguettes. Trust me, it’s true.

I’ve always been this way. See me here at age 11. That’s when I decided that the first thing I want when I grow up is a Kitchen Aid mixer.

And when I lived alone, single in my twenties, there’d be nights when I made a half dozen pies only to drive around the next day delivering them to grandparents and friends.

And now, in the kitchen in my new home, baking has never been better. I have counter space galore and every rolling pin and baking mat has its place. But best of all, I have 3 teenagers to consume whatever I make. And they don’t even realize they’re doing me a favor.

About Wendy Scherer…

Wendy blogs at Finding Blanche http://findingblanche and photoblogs at She is principal of The Social Studies Group

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Breathe in, Breathe out: Multitasking & Mindfulness Meditation

Posted by on Jun 15, 2012 in memory/learning, stress | 0 comments

Got stress, a lack of focus, too much on your plate? Researchers from the University of Washington report that meditation, namely mindful meditation, can improve focus, benefit memory and reduce stress. What a concept, eh?

Mindfulness meditation is trained meditation. This particular study (reported in the May issue of Proceedings of Graphic Interface) used focused attention, which targets a person’s ability to voluntarily narrow or widen focus, place attention on the present moment, shift focus from one thing to another, and cultivate awareness of breathing and the body. While one group of workers participated in this type of activity, another were actively trained in progressive relaxation, whereby muscle groups are tensed and then relaxed, aided by mental imagery (e.g. “my arms are becoming heavy and warm) , an audio CD and weekly classes. Both of these groups then engaged in multitasking (e.g. scheduling a meeting, finding a conference room, writing an announcement, creating an agenda or eating and drinking). A third group waited 8 weeks, underwent multasking and then were trained in mindful meditation and retested.

The findings? People who were trained in and practiced mindfulness meditation reported lower stress levels during multitasking, were less negative and had less fatigue. Similarly, the group who received mindfulness training later in the study also reported reductions in their stress levels. What’s more, mindfulness meditation also appeared to improve focus (the participants shifted their attention less during a particular task) and memory.

The researchers attribute these benefits to the ability of mindfulness meditation training to help strengthen our ability to notice interruptions without necessarily stopping or diverting attention from the task at hand. Meditation has been associated with enhancing the ability to regular emotions; less stress translates into better recall. This particular domino effect is a win-win-win!

Obviously, more research is needed. But in the interim, it appears to mindfulness meditation may go well beyond hot flashes and attitude adjustments to multitasking, memory and stress reduction.


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Got Stress?

Posted by on Apr 13, 2012 in stress | 2 comments


Did you know that April is Stress Awareness Month? All I can say is that maybe some of us need an entire year! That’s why I as devoting today to stress busting posts with tips aimed at ameliorating some of that stress out of your life, and in turn, ameliorating some of the more unpleasant parts of the transition. And while I can’t make any guarantees, I can confirm that learning to relax and let go can pave the way to wellbeing.

A few highlights from the Flashfree archives await!

From December, 2011: Mindfulness, meditation and stress. Learning to bring on the relaxation response can go a long way towards health and happiness.

From November, 2011: Yoga, insomnia and sleep quality. Don’t know about you but when I don’t sleep well, I react in ways that are not always beneficial. Apparently, yoga not only promotes better sleep patterns, but also, helps to boost stress resistance.

From March, 2011: Try a little mindfulness. It appears that by breaking down the components of one’s experience, you may be better equipped to handle a variety of situations. And although this particular information applies to hot flashes, the reality is that it is likely useful in all aspect of life.

From July, 2009: Why I bake. Sometimes simply incorporating pleasurable activities into our lives can help alleviate daily stressors. One of the web’s top social researchers says that baking is her path towards relaxation.

From September, 2009: The best medicine. Want to feel better? Laugh…to the point of tears.

From August, 2008: L’Chaim. Women gravitate towards ‘tending and befriending.’ No wonder; social support can go a long way towards alleviating stress.


What tricks of the relaxation trade work best for you? Care to share them?

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Wednesday Bubble: when it comes to chocolate, walk the walk

Posted by on Jan 11, 2012 in career, diet, exercise | 4 comments

You know all that dark chocolate you started eating after Monday’s post about chocolate and heart disease? Well, ‘Wednesday’s child is full of woe,’ mainly because overconsumption of high energy food sources, like chocolate, can lead to slow weight gain over time.

Damned if you do and damned if you don’t, right?

Not so fast! I ran across an interesting piece the other day when researching chocolate. And researchers say that while chocolate is one of the most commonly craved foods because it can temporarily enhance moods and may even be considered addictive, exercise may be a way to counter the chocolate craving, especially in the workplace where snacking is used as a tool to counter boredom, fatigue and stress.

In this small study, researchers asked regular chocolate eaters (i.e. those who confessed to eating at least two chocolate bars a day) to abstain from eating chocolate for two days and then randomly participate in the following:

  • 15 minutes of exercise (a brisk walk on a treadmill to the point but not exceeding breathlessness) and a low demanding computer task
  • 15 minutes of exercise (as above) and a high demanding computer task
  • Rest and a low demanding computer task
  • Rest and a high demanding computer task

Now, here’s the rub. During the computer tasks, participants were seated next to a bowl of chocolates and informed that they could dig in as they wished (and, the bowl was weighed before and after so that the researchers could accurately determine how much chocolate was eaten). And, despite temptation, the participants who exercised ate half as much chocolate as those who didn’t.  Yet, stress didn’t seem to counter the effect of exercise or the temptation to snack since both high and low demanding tasks resulted in pretty much the same level of chocolate consumption.

Although this is a very small study and only mimicked real life conditions, evidently, others have likewise shown that a brisk walk can temper chocolate cravings and that walking for as little as five minutes can counter an urge to snack. This is especially interesting when it comes to addictive foods like chocolate, since the compulsion component of addiction is such a strong driver of unhealthy behaviors.

The next time you’re at work and feel compelled to reach for the chocolate? Take a break and walk around the block. Save the chocolate for relaxing evenings at home. After all, home is where the heart is.


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