Stress is genuinely good for you, experts reveal

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Kayleigh Dray
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Sweaty palms, pounding heart, churning stomach – they’re all symptoms of stress.

The internet is filled with tips and advice on how to fight the pressure when you feel it settling in. But, while looming deadlines, managing your email inbox, or dealing with a tricky client may feel impossible to deal with, it turns out that getting stressed isn’t so bad after all.

In fact, it could actually be good for our health, not to mention increase our life expectancy.

Experts have conducted an experiment which proves that workers in stressful jobs are a third less likely to die than those with easier roles. 

But, naturally, there’s a catch; workplace stress only benefits us if we remain in control of our own workflow.

Published in the journal Personnel Psychology, researchers from Indiana University, USA, analysed the lives of 2,363 people in their sixties from 2004.

Intent on finding a correlation between workplace stress and mortality, they charted their lives and health levels for seven years.

And, at the end of the experiment, they found that those who had freedom and control in their high-stress role were 34% less likely to have died than those in less stressful careers.

So is it time to step away from the stress-ball?

Erik Gonzalez-Mulé, the paper’s lead author, explains: “These findings suggest that stressful jobs have clear negative consequences for employee health when paired with low freedom in decision-making, while stressful jobs can actually be beneficial to employee health if also paired with freedom in decision-making.”

He added that those who lack control at work tend to turn to vices more often, whether this be overloading on sugary snacks, smoking, or drinking.

“When you don't have the necessary resources to deal with a demanding job, you do this other stuff. You might eat more, you might smoke, you might engage in some of these things to cope with it,” he explained.

It's up to employers to provide the solution, Gonzalez-Mulé continued, advising bosses everywhere to sit down and rethink the structure of the working day - overtime should be discouraged, and flexible working hours seriously considered.

He also suggested that employers should allow workers to set their own goals; giving them more control over their own workloads should help them to generate a healthy level of stress - and enjoy all the benefits it brings, as opposed to the negatives.

“You can avoid the negative health consequences if you allow them to set their own goals, set their own schedules, prioritise their decision-making and the like,” he said.

“Stressful jobs cause you to find ways to problem-solve and work through ways to get the work done."

He finished: “A stressful job then, instead of being something debilitating, can be something that’s energising.

“You are able to set your own goals, you are able to prioritise work. You can go about deciding how you are going to get it done. That stress then becomes something you enjoy.”


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Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.