Monday, February 26, 2018

Waiting until the last minute may create more stress and produce inferior work.
"Don't put off until tomorrow what you can do today" is an old expression that warns against procrastinating.  Critics of procrastination tend to believe that waiting until the last minute doesn't provide enough time to do quality work and actually creates more stress for the worker.  Procrastinators defend themselves by pointing out that if two people put the same amount of work into a project, when they do their work doesn't matter.  Procrastinators also tend to believe they work best under the pressure of a looming deadline; therefore they see procrastination as a superior strategy that produces higher quality work.  To try and determine which view was more accurate, Researchers from Case Western Reserve University conducted a study.
What was the research about?
Sixty students in a psychology class participated in the study.  At the beginning of the semester the class was given a due date for a term paper.  One month into the semester, all the participants completed a questionnaire that measured their attitudes toward procrastination.  The researchers used this questionnaire to classify each participant as either a procrastinator or a non-procrastinator.  For the next month all participants completed weekly questionnaires that measured stress-related physical symptoms, number of visits made to the health-care center and the overall amount of stress experienced.  Later, during the last week of class, the participants again completed these same questionnaires so the researchers could assess the long-term effects of procrastination.
The results showed that early in the semester, procrastinators suffered less stress and fewer stress-related physical symptoms than non-procrastinators did.  These short-term benefits of procrastinating, however, reversed as time went on.  At the end of the semester, procrastinators reported higher levels of stress and stress-related physical symptoms.  To make matters worse, procrastinators' levels of stress and stress-related physical symptoms were higher at the end of the semester than those experienced by non-procrastinators at the beginning of the semester.  In other words, waiting until the last minute didn't just shift when procrastinator's experienced their stress, it actually increased how much stress and symptoms procrastinator's experienced.  In addition, procrastinators received lower grades on their term papers and exams than non-procrastinators did.  Thus, procrastination also seems to decrease rather than increase the quality of work performance.
Why should it matter to me?
Although it may be easy to put off working on a project until later, remember that you pay a price for procrastinating.  In the long run you are likely to experience more stress and physical symptoms if you wait until the last minute.  More importantly, your work probably won't be as good if you wait until just before a deadline.  Instead of procrastinating, it may be better to try and spread your work out over a period of time.  By spreading out your work you won't feel overwhelmed by the project and can keep your stress level lower.
Source: Tice, Dianne M., & Baumeister, Roy F. (1997). Longitudinal study of procrastination, performance, stress, and health: The costs and benefits of dawdling. Psychological Science, 8, 454-458.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Stress and the Common Cold
People who face chronic stress may be more likely to catch a cold.
Although research has clearly shown that higher levels of stress are associated with increased susceptibility to illness, exactly what type of stress is responsible for this link is not known.  For instance, acute stressful events only occur once or only have a short-term effect on the individual, such as when a person has a fight with his or her friend.  Chronic stressful events, however, can occur repeatedly or can affect the individual over a long period of time, such as when a person is unemployed for months.  To find out how these two different types of stressful events affect a person's susceptibility to illness, researchers from Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburg School of Medicine conducted a study. 
What was the research about?
Two hundred seventy six paid volunteers (125 men and 151 women) took part in the study.  The participants first completed a series of questionnaires that assessed their social networks, exercise routine, smoking level, age, education, race, gender, weight and height.  All of these variables were measured at the beginning so that the experimenters could statistically account for and control any influence these variables might have on the results of the experiment.  One month later the participants underwent an extensive interview to assess how many acute and/or chronic stressful events they were experiencing.  Afterwards the participants were all quarantined for 24 hours and then given nasal drops that contained a cold virus.  After being exposed to the cold virus the participants were quarantined for another 5 days.  During these 5 days the experimenters repeatedly tested the participant's blood and mucus to determine which participants developed a cold.
The results showed that participants experiencing chronic stressful events were more likely to develop a cold than those who were not experiencing any chronic stressful events.  Participants who had experienced acute stressful events, however, were not more likely to develop a cold.  The researchers also analyzed which specific types of chronic stressful events were associated with developing a cold.  They found that participants who were experiencing interpersonal stressors (e.g., ongoing problems with spouse) or stressors at work (e.g., underemployment or unemployment) were more likely to develop a cold; however, participants experiencing other types of chronic stressors were not more likely to develop a cold.
Why should it matter to me?
Although a chronic stressful event may not always seem to be as bad as an acute stressor, chronic stress appears to compromise a person's ability to resist illness.  If you are currently facing chronic stress this study demonstrates another reason it is important for you to try and deal with your stressor rather than simply putting up with it or avoiding it.

Source: Cohen, Sheldon, Frank, Ellen, Doyle, William J., Skoner, David P., Rabin, Bruce S., & Gwaltney, Jack M. Jr. (1998). Types of stressors that increase susceptibility to the common cold in healthy adults. Health Psychology, 17, 214-223. 

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Coping with Loss
When coping with the loss of a loved one, finding meaning in the event and seeing the positive side of things really helps.
When someone we love dies it can be very difficult to cope.  Psychologists who study coping with loss have found that people who develop an understanding of the event and its implications seem to cope most effectively.  Unfortunately, psychologists are not clear exactly what about understanding an event and its implications helps a person cope.  One possibility is that a person reduces their distress by making sense of the event or explaining why the event occurred   For example, a person may come to believe that a loved one's death was simply meant to be because it was part of God's plan.  Another possibility is that people find something positive in the event (the "silver lining") that lets them take some comfort in the loved one's death.  For example, a person may gain a new perspective on his or her life, or the death may have brought the person's family closer together.  To try and sort out how each of these processes affect coping with loss, and what factors influence these two processes, researchers from the University of Michigan and Stanford University conducted a study.
What was the research about?
The researchers first recruited 455 participants who had a terminally ill loved one in hospice care.  Each of these participants was interviewed prior to the death of their loved one, as well as 6, 13, and 18 months after the death of their loved one.  During the first interview the researchers measured psychological distress, how religious the participant was, and how optimistic/pessimistic the participant was.  During each interview after the loved one had died, the researchers measured psychological distress, optimism/pessimism, and whether the participant had been able to make sense of the loved one's death and/or find some positive aspect in the experience.
The results showed that participants were more likely to make sense of their loved one's death if the person had died at an older age and the participant was more religious.  Interestingly, the only factor related to whether participants were able to find some positive aspect in the experience was how optimistic they were.  Participants were more likely to find the "silver lining" the more optimistic they were.  The results also showed that finding a positive aspect in the experience helped participants cope better with their loved one's death than making sense of the event did.  Therefore, it seems that seeing the sliver lining helps more than just making sense of why the person died.
Why should it matter to me?
Losing a loved one is a truly terrible experience to go through.  Although you may be overwhelmed with grief, trying to see the positive aspects of your experience can help you cope.  Perhaps the person was suffering and their death brought them relief, or perhaps you realized just how much your family and relatives cared for your well being as they gave you social support.  Regardless of what benefits you draw from a loved one's death, seeing those benefits can help their death enrich, rather than diminish, your life.

Source: Davis, Christopher G., Nolen-Hoeksema, Susan, & Larson, Judith (1998). Making sense of loss and benefiting from the experience: Two construals of meaning. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75, 561-574. 

Monday, February 5, 2018

The stress of commuting to work
Adopting a flextime commuting program may help reduce employees' stress.

Commuting to work is an unavoidable part of many people's job.  Unfortunately, an employee's daily commute to work can be a source of significant stress.  This stress can in turn cause real problems with employee attitude, absenteeism and health.  To help combat these problems, some businesses have adopted a flextime program.  Flextime is a program that allows for flexible starting and quitting times.  Thus employees on a flextime program avoid rush hour traffic by coming to work earlier (or later) and leaving earlier than (or later than) the normal quitting time.  Although this program would seem to help alleviate commuting stress for employees, no research has actually tested the program's effectiveness.  Therefore, two researchers designed a study to test whether flextime is effective at reducing employees' commuting stress.

What was the research about?
The study involved 123 full-time employed commuters from Atlanta, Georgia.  The researchers chose Atlanta residents because Atlanta has the longest average commute (34.7 miles) of any city in the world; making it a very stressful city to commute in.  All of the participants completed an online survey that measured how much stress they felt during their commute, how much time urgency they felt during their commute, and how satisfied they were with their commute.  The researchers then compared responses between participants who were taking part in a flextime program and those who were not.  The results showed that participants taking part in a flextime program reported feeling less stress and less time urgency during their commute.  There was no difference, however, in how much satisfaction both groups felt with their commute.

Why should it matter to me?
If commuting to work is a source of significant stress, then you may want to look into trying a flextime program.  Although this program means adjusting your work schedule, the reduction in stress may be worth it.  Alternatively, if you are a manager who is worried about employee stress due to commuting, a flextime program may be worth considering.
Source: Lucas, Jennifer, & Heady, Ronald B. (2002). Flextime commuters and their driver stress, feelings of time urgency, and commute satisfaction. Journal of Business  and Psychology, 16, 565-571.