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New study says women are less stressed at work than at home

Charlotte Hilton Andersen is the author of the book The Great Fitness Experiment: One Year of Trying Everything and runs the popular health and fitness website of the same name, where she tries out a new workout every month, specializing...

Stress levels are lower at work

Ever feel like escaping to the office after a long day at home? Sounds counterintuitive but according to a new Penn State study, that's exactly how many of us feel.

Researchers measured levels of cortisol, the "stress hormone," in people at home and on the job and were surprised to find the levels were lower at work. And not only were both men and women significantly less stressed out at work, but women also reported feeling happier at work than at home. In addition, they found that people who work full time are healthier mentally and physically. So how is it possible that the place with the plasma TV, pillow-top mattress and chocolate stash is the more stressful environment for women?

Lead researcher Sarah Damaske, Ph.D., an assistant professor of labor and employment relations, sociology and women’s studies, has two ideas. "Women continue to do more work in the household and have less leisure time there than men. That means that when they come home from work, they are maybe feeling more harried than men are," she explains. In addition, she found that women have to make tough decisions about workforce participation, particularly when they have children, which means that those women who remain employed are choosing to do so because they are more likely to have found a job that works for their lives.

Being a working mom myself, I can see her points, but I wonder if part of it isn't also the pressure that women feel to excel in both spheres. If we work outside the home, we feel more pressure to make sure nothing slips by when we are home. We feel like we need to make up for the time we are missing with our kids and also stay on top of the groceries, laundry and piano lessons. Plus so many people are taking work home with them these days, blurring that line between work and home. So I can understand why it might be easier to go to the office where the only thing you have to focus on is work.

Although that may not be as true for parents. The researchers found that parents experienced a less significant drop in stress at work than non-parents. As any parent can tell you, this isn't totally surprising — kids have a way of complicating things whether or not you're physically with them. (Did I tell you about the time I got called to the principal's office three times in one day? For the same kid? I might as well have set up shop in her waiting room.) Plus juggling multiple schedules just means more stress. But Damaske, also a working mom, says there's a bright side.

"Kids are a natural stress reliever, helping parents to be less stressed at home [accounting for the smaller distance between work and home stress levels]" she says. "I think about my daughter and all the joy she's brought to my life. She's almost 2 and likes to dance when she's happy — so there's lots of dancing in my house these days. How could that not lower your stress?"

Aw, now I want to go dance with my babies. What about you? Do you feel less stressed at home or at work?

More on work, health and happiness

What it means to be a career mom over 40
Telecommuting myths: Is it all it's cracked up to be?
Moms trade perfection for happiness

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