1. Study suggests blurring the boundaries between work and personal life can lead to exhaustion

    December 29, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Springer press release:

    In working life it’s now almost expected that employees answer work-related emails after hours, or take their laptops with them on holiday. But the blurring of boundaries between work and personal life can affect people’s sense of well-being and lead to exhaustion. This is according to Ariane Wepfer of the University of Zurich in Switzerland who, together with her colleagues, published a study in Springer’s Journal of Business and Psychology.

    Wepfer and her colleagues recruited 1916 employees from a broad range of sectors in German-speaking countries to take part in an online study. Most were married (70,3 percent) and their average age was 42.3 years. Half of the participants (50.1 percent) worked 40 hours or more per week, while 55.8 percent were men. They were asked how well they were able to manage the boundaries between their work and non-work lives, for instance, how often they took work home, how often they worked on weekends and how often they thought about work during their time off.

    Participants also indicated whether they made time to relax after work to socialize or to participate in sports and other hobbies, and how diligently they made sure that their work did not interfere with their private lives. To measure a person’s well-being, the researchers considered participants’ sense of physical and emotional exhaustion as well as their sense of balance between work and non-work.

    The researchers found that employees who did not organise a clear separation between work and free time were less likely to participate in activities that could help them relax and recover from career demands. They were therefore more exhausted and experienced a lower sense of balance and well-being in the different key aspects of their lives.

    Employees who integrated work into their non-work life reported being more exhausted because they recovered less,” Wepfer explains. “This lack of recovery activities furthermore explains why people who integrate their work into the rest of their lives have a lower sense of well-being.”

    Wepfer says that within the contexts of occupational health it is important to understand the findings, the mechanisms behind them and the factors that determine to what degree people are able to draw a line between their careers and their personal lives. She believes that companies should have policies and interventions in place to help their employees to segment different aspects of their lives better, to their own benefit.

    “Organizational policy and culture should be adjusted to help employees manage their work-non-work boundaries in a way that does not impair their well-being,” says Wepfer. “After all, impaired well-being goes hand in hand with reduced productivity and reduced creativity.”


  2. Study suggests children’s screen-time guidelines may be too restrictive

    December 27, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Oxford press release:

    Digital screen use is a staple of contemporary life for adults and children, whether they are browsing on laptops and smartphones, or watching TV. Paediatricians and scientists have long expressed concerns about the impact of overusing technology on people’s wellbeing. However, new Oxford University research suggests that existing guidance managing children’s digital media time may not be as beneficial as first thought.

    Earlier this year the team published a paper disputing digital device guidelines for teenagers and proposing that a moderate amount of screen-time, known as the ‘Goldilocks’ period, might actually boosts teenage wellbeing.

    In a new study, published in the journal Child Development, researchers from the Oxford Internet Institute and Cardiff University conducted a similar study, assessing the impact of screen-time on children aged two to five. The team tested screen use guidelines recommended by the American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP), which proposes a limit of one to two hours per day, as good for the psychological-wellbeing of young children.

    Using data from approximately 20,000 telephone interviews with parents, the authors assessed the relationship between their children’s technology use and wellbeing. Over the course of a month this relationship was measured in terms of caregiver attachment, impact on emotional resilience, curiosity and positive effect. The results revealed a number of interesting findings that suggest that limiting children’s digital device use is not necessarily beneficial for wellbeing.

    The team found no consistent correlations between either the 2010 or revised 2016 advised digital usage limits and young children’s wellbeing. While children aged two to five whose technology usage was limited in-line with AAP guidance showed slightly higher levels of resilience, this was balanced by lower levels of positive affect.

    Further research indicates similar results to those reported in the recent study of adolescents; that moderate screen-use above the recommended limits might actually be linked to slightly higher levels of children’s wellbeing.

    Lead author Dr Andrew Pryzbylski, of the Oxford Internet Institute, said: ‘Taken together, our findings suggest that there is little or no support for the theory that digital screen use, on its own, is bad for young children’s psychological wellbeing.

    ‘If anything, our findings suggest the broader family context, how parents set rules about digital screen time, and if they’re actively engaged in exploring the digital world together, are more important than the raw screen time. Future research should focus on how using digital devices with parents or care-givers and turning it into a social time can effect children’s psychological wellbeing, curiosity, and the bonds with the caregiver involved.’

    The paper’s other findings of note include observations that our digital screen use increases with age, is higher in boys, non-whites, children with less educated caregivers and children from less affluent households.

    The authors found the AAP guidelines themselves to be based on out-of-date research, conducted before digital devices had become so ingrained into everyday life. As a result of this time lapse, they are becoming increasingly difficult to justify and implement.

    Co-author Dr Netta Weinstein, a senior lecturer in psychology at Cardiff University, said: ‘Given that we cannot put the digital genie back in the bottle, it is incumbent on researchers to conduct rigorous, up-to-date research that identifies mechanisms by and the extent to which screen-time exposure might affect children.

    Pryzbylski adds in conclusion: ‘To be robust, current recommendations may need to be re-evaluated and given additional consideration before we can confidently recommend that these digital screen-time limits are good for young children’s mental health and wellbeing’.


  3. Study links healthy eating to kids’ happiness

    December 24, 2017 by Ashley

    From the BioMed Central press release:

    Healthy eating is associated with better self-esteem and fewer emotional and peer problems, such as having fewer friends or being picked on or bullied, in children regardless of body weight, according to a study published in the open access journal BMC Public Health. Inversely, better self-esteem is associated with better adherence to healthy eating guidelines, according to researchers from The Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg, Sweden.

    Dr Louise Arvidsson, the corresponding author said: “We found that in young children aged two to nine years there is an association between adherence to healthy dietary guidelines and better psychological well-being, which includes fewer emotional problems, better relationships with other children and higher self-esteem, two years later. Our findings suggest that a healthy diet can improve well-being in children.”

    Examining 7,675 children two to nine years of age from eight European countries — Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Spain and Sweden — the researchers found that a higher Healthy Dietary Adherence Score (HDAS) at the beginning of the study period was associated with better self-esteem and fewer emotional and peer problems two years later.

    The HDAS aims to capture adherence to healthy dietary guidelines, which include limiting intake of refined sugars, reducing fat intake and eating fruit and vegetables. A higher HDAS indicates better adherence to the guidelines — i.e. healthier eating. The guidelines are common to the eight countries included in this study.

    The authors found that better self-esteem at the beginning of the study period was associated with a higher HDAS two years later and that the associations between HDAS and wellbeing were similar for children who had normal weight and children who were overweight.

    Dr Arvidsson said: “It was somewhat surprising to find that the association between baseline diet and better well-being two years later was independent of children’s socioeconomic position and their body weight.”

    The authors used data from the Identification and Prevention of Dietary- and Lifestyle-Induced Health Effects in Children and Infants Study, a prospective cohort study that aims to understand how to prevent overweight in children while also considering the multiple factors that contribute to it.

    At the beginning of the study period parents were asked to report how often per week their children consumed food from a list of 43 items. Depending on their consumption of these foods, children were then assigned an HDAS score. Psychosocial wellbeing was assessed based on self-esteem, parent relations, emotional and peer problems as reported by the parents in response to validated questionnaires. Height and weight of the children were measured. All questionnaires and measurements were repeated two years later.

    The study is the first to analyze the individual components included in the HDAS and their associations with children’s wellbeing. The authors found that fish intake according to guidelines (2-3 times per week) was associated with better self-esteem and no emotional and peer problems. Intake of whole meal products were associated with no peer problems.

    The associations were found to go in both directions; better wellbeing was associated with consumption of fruit and vegetables, sugar and fat in accordance with dietary guidelines, better self-esteem was associated with sugar intake according to guidelines, good parent relations were associated with fruit and vegetable consumption according to guidelines, fewer emotional problems were associated with fat intake according to guidelines and fewer peer problems were associated with consumption of fruit and vegetables according to guidelines.

    The authors caution that children with poor diet and poor wellbeing were more likely to drop out of the study and were therefore underrepresented at the two-year follow-up, which complicates conclusions about the true rates of poor diet and poor wellbeing. As the study is observational and relies on self-reported data from parents, no conclusions about cause and effect are possible.

    Dr Arvidsson said: “The associations we identified here need to be confirmed in experimental studies including children with clinical diagnosis of depression, anxiety or other behavioral disorders rather than well-being as reported by parents.”

     


  4. Study suggests we overstate our negative feelings in surveys

    December 20, 2017 by Ashley

    From the New York University press release:

    We tend to overstate our negative feelings and symptoms in surveys, shows a new study by a team of psychology researchers. This bias wears off over time, but the results point to the possibility that measurements of health and well-being, which are vital in making medical assessments and in guiding health-related research, may be misinterpreted.

    Understanding the magnitude of this bias is essential in accurately interpreting survey results that include subjective reports of feelings and symptoms,” says Patrick Shrout, a professor in New York University’s Department of Psychology and a co-author of the paper, which appears in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

    It’s long been understood that survey instruments are imperfect measurements of mood and emotions. However, they nonetheless provide insights into people’s preferences, fears, and priorities — information on which policy makers, industry leaders, and health-care professionals rely in their decision-making.

    Less clear, in particular, is the accuracy of capturing our sentiments over time using repeated measurements, which is a common method to gauge changes in symptoms, attitudes, and well-being. Notably, there have been puzzling findings in the psychological literature that reports of anxiety, depression, and physical symptoms decline over time, regardless of the circumstances of the people being studied.

    To study this decline, the researchers conducted four separate experiments in which the subjects in each were asked, multiple times, about their anxiety, physical symptoms, and energy level.

    In three of the four studies, the subjects were facing stressful events and the expectation was that anxiety and physical complaints, such as headaches and sleep disturbance, would be more common as the event drew near. One of these studies focused on recent law school graduates preparing for the bar examination and two others centered on college students who were preparing for difficult pre-med science examinations. The fourth study was a bi-monthly survey of college students over the course of an academic year. All four studies were designed so that groups of subjects gave their first reports at different times relative to the stressful event or academic year.


  5. Study suggests more needs to be done to ensure 24-hour working is not the new norm

    December 3, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Surrey press release:

    Employers should do more to ensure employees do not feel pressured into working outside of their contractual hours and offer more support regarding how they work flexibly, a new study in the International Journal of Management Reviews reports.

    During the comprehensive evidence-based review, led by the University of Surrey in collaboration with Birkbeck, University of London and the University of Exeter, researchers scrutinised 56 studies examining the use of technology during non-working hours. They found that a ‘one size fits all’ approach to the use of technology outside working hours, such as switching off email servers outside of office hours, is not conducive to the needs of every employee.

    Researchers identified a number of factors that contribute to people choosing to work outside of hours. The internet and improvements in ICT have made non-manual work increasingly portable and accessible, resulting in employees finding it far easier to work during non-contractual hours.

    It was found that many employees felt pressure from their organisation to be constantly available and to engage in work during non-work time, which was exacerbated when expectations about what was required was vague. A desire to prove dedication and ‘go the extra mile’ were also found to be reasons why people were working more than their contracted hours.

    An employee’s behaviour may in turn also shape what is expected and lead to additional out of hours working (e.g. a colleague who has been available at all times is expected to be available in the future).

    However, the researchers also found that increased access to technology and working outside of office hours is actually preferred by some employees, who felt it gives them greater flexibility and control over their workload, leading to increases in self-reported efficiency and performance. The study also found that employees appreciated the benefits of being able to monitor continuously the information flow and stay on top of their work.

    To overcome this disparity in how employees chose to work, researchers recommend that employers give individuals control over their working patterns and actively involve them in any decisions or policies about technology use so employees can reap the benefits of modern technologies without being enslaved by them.

    Lead author Svenja Schlachter from the University of Surrey said:

    “A failure to disconnect from work can negatively impact on a person’s wellbeing and health. Many individuals report feeling pressured into logging in after hours to complete work, a task that is becoming more commonplace with the advance of technology. However, the flip side of this is that some actually prefer the flexibility this offers.

    “Although employers implementing policies such as restricting accessibility to emails outside of office hours take a step in the right direction to ensure a good work/life balance for their workers, such regimented approaches to when you should and shouldn’t be working do not work for everyone. Employers need to work with their staff to understand their individual needs wherever possible. However, employees also need to take responsibility for their working behaviour, as it is ultimately up to them if they switch their phone off or not.”

    Dr Almuth McDowall, from Birkbeck, University of London said: “Our research stresses two facts. First, there is no blanket solution to how to maximise technology use for communication. Second, we need to put the issue on the table and spell out expectations about what is reasonable. Then agree on some boundaries whilst retaining flexibility.”

    Professor Ilke Inceoglu, from the University of Exeter Business School, said: “We have found the internet and new technology can give people flexibility in the way they work, and they feel this can make them more efficient and feel empowered. But other people feel enslaved by the constant need to check and reply to emails, and managers must lead by example to ensure their wellbeing is protected.”


  6. Study suggests stress faced by emergency call handlers damaging to long term health

    November 23, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Surrey press release:

    During this innovative study, researchers from the University of Surrey, University of Dundee, Anglia Ruskin University and Kingston University/St George’s, University of London investigated areas that impacted on the psychological health of call handlers.

    Previous research on how stress affects healthcare workers is largely focused on frontline staff i.e. paramedics and firefighters, however little is known on the impact on call handlers who make critical decisions in assessing what type of emergency response is required.

    Examining 16 studies from across the world, researchers identified key factors which cause operatives stress and potentially impact on their psychological health. Exposure to traumatic and abusive calls was found to negatively affect call handlers, because although they are not physically exposed to emergency situations, evidence demonstrated that they experienced trauma vicariously. In one study, participants reported experiencing fear, helplessness or horror in reaction to 32 per cent of the different types of calls that they received.

    A key stressor for call handlers was a lack of control over their workload due to the unpredictability of calls and a lack of organisational recognition of the demands of managing their assignments. One study reported that ambulance call handlers felt out of control of their workload after returning from rest breaks, which led them not taking scheduled breaks, leading to exhaustion. A lack of high quality training in dealing with pressurised calls was identified by some handlers as contributing to stress levels, with police call handlers in one study showing concern about their performance in handling fluid situations such as robberies in progress or suicidal callers, in case they did not make the correct decisions.

    Co-author of the paper Mark Cropley, Professor in Health Psychology at the University of Surrey, said:

    “Call handlers across different emergency services consistently reported their job as highly stressful, which in turn affects their psychological health. This undoubtedly impacts on their overall wellbeing, leading to increased sickness and time away from work, putting additional strain on the service and their colleagues.

    “Although handlers are not experiencing trauma first-hand the stress that they experience when responding to such calls should not be overlooked.”

    Co-author Professor Patricia Schofield, of Anglia Ruskin University, said: “Call handlers are the front line of emergency care but are often overlooked when it comes to studies about stress affecting the police, fire and ambulance services. This study finds evidence that staff are at risk of burnout, due to high workload, inadequate training and a lack of control.

    “It’s important that these staff are considered and interventions made to ensure that they can cope with their workload — these people make vital decisions which affect lives.”

    Co-author Professor Tom Quinn from Kingston University & St George’s, University of London, said:

    “Most people probably don’t recognise the stressful conditions under which emergency call centre staff work. Now that we have explored and summarised the evidence to identify the challenges these important staff face, we plan to develop and test interventions to reduce the burden on them and improve their wellbeing.”


  7. Study suggests optimists and happy people are healthier overall

    November 14, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Michigan press release:

    Research shows that optimists and happy people are healthier overall, enjoying lower blood pressure and less depression and anxiety, among other measures.

    However, data on the effect of weight and Body Mass Index on physical and mental health are rare — especially among college students, who suffer high rates of anxiety and depression and often neglect physical self-care and exercise.

    To that end, researchers from the University of Michigan and Fudan University in China set out to learn the extent to which BMI and positive outlook affect the physical and mental health of college students in China’s Fudan University.

    They found that a positive outlook and BMI both contributed significantly to good health, said Weiyun Chen, associate professor of health and fitness at the U-M School of Kinesiology.

    Researchers asked 925 students to rate four indicators of psychological well-being: hope, gratitude, life satisfaction and subjective happiness. They also calculated students’ BMI based on self-reported body weight and height. To assess physical and mental health, researchers asked students various questions about their sleep quality and how often they felt healthy, energized, worthless, fidgety, anxious or depressed.

    Chen said that taken together, the four psychological variables and BMI accounted for 41 percent of the total variance in health. Individually, subjective happiness had the most significant impact, followed by hope, and then BMI.

    By themselves, gratitude and life satisfaction didn’t influence overall health. Also, interestingly, BMI was correlated with physical and overall health, but not with hope, gratitude, life satisfaction or mental health.

    In light of the intense academic pressure Chinese college students face, especially at elite institutions like Fudan, Chen said she was surprised by how many students rated themselves happy and healthy. This could point to China’s emphasis on well-being in schools.

    “They have structured, organized physical educations classes,” Chen said. “It’s not just fitness, it’s a variety of things so you can meet different people’s needs. They realized that emphasizing only academics isn’t good for overall health, and that they needed to emphasize the wellness part.”

    These numbers might look different for college students in the U.S., where two of three adults are overweight or obese, and 17 percent of youth ages 2-19 are considered obese, according to the CDC.

    By contrast, 714 Fudan students, or 77.2 percent, were classified as normal body weight, while only 83 students were overweight, and just 5 students were obese, with 123 students considered underweight.

    “Over the past 20 years, the United States has shrunk physical education in elementary school and in college,” Chen said. “In China, especially in the past decade, they have started to emphasize physical education, and they are taking a holistic, whole person approach.”

    Chen said the findings suggest that universities should creatively design wellness programs and centers that dynamically integrate body, mind and spirit into a seamless unit.

    The study has several limitations: all students were recruited from one university, and the results cannot be generalized; the research design prevented establishing causal effects; and the study did not account for gender differences.


  8. Study suggests short nature intervention can bring out the best in people

    November 12, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of British Columbia Okanagan campus press release:

    Is it any wonder that most happiness idioms are associated with nature? Happy as a pig in muck, happy as a clam, happy camper.

    A UBC researcher says there’s truth to the idea that spending time outdoors is a direct line to happiness. In fact, Holli-Anne Passmore says if people simply take time to notice the nature around them, it will increase their general happiness and well-being.

    Passmore, a PhD psychology student at UBC’s Okanagan campus, recently published research examining the connection between taking a moment to look at something from the natural environment and personal well-being. A recent study involved a two-week ‘intervention’ where participants were asked to document how nature they encountered in their daily routine made them feel. They took a photo of the item that caught their attention and jotted down a short note about their feelings in response to it.

    Other participants tracked their reactions to human-made objects, took a photo and jotted down their feelings, while a third group did neither. Passmore explains that examples of nature could be anything not human built: a house plant, a dandelion growing in a crack in a sidewalk, birds, or sun through a window.

    “This wasn’t about spending hours outdoors or going for long walks in the wilderness,” Passmore says. “This is about the tree at a bus stop in the middle of a city and the positive effect that one tree can have on people.”

    Passmore, who studies wellness, says she was ‘overwhelmed’ not only by the response of her 395 study participants — more than 2,500 photos and descriptions of emotions were submitted — but also by the impact that simply noticing emotional responses to nearby nature had on personal well-being. And their prosocial orientation — a willingness to share resources and the value they placed on community.

    There is scientific documentation that people who live in greenspaces generally seem to be happier, and may live longer than those who don’t. Passmore is taking that research further. This study is one of a series by a research team in UBC Okanagan’s psychology department known as the “Happy Team” which is providing evidence that nature can increase happiness.

    “The difference in participants’ well-being their happiness, sense of elevation, and their level of connectedness to other people, not just nature — was significantly higher than participants in the group noticing how human-built objects made them feel and the control group.”


  9. Study suggests maintaining strong social networks linked to slower cognitive decline

    by Ashley

    From the Northwestern University press release:

    Maintaining positive, warm and trusting friendships might be the key to a slower decline in memory and cognitive functioning, according to a new Northwestern Medicine study.

    SuperAgers — who are 80 years of age and older who have cognitive ability at least as good as people in their 50s or 60s — reported having more satisfying, high-quality relationships compared to their cognitively average, same-age peers, the study reports.

    Previous SuperAger research at the Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer’s Disease Center (CNADC) at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine has focused on the biological differences in SuperAgers, such as discovering that the cortex in their brain is actually larger than their cognitively average, same-age peers. This study, published Oct. 23 in the journal PLOS ONE, was the first to examine the social side of SuperAgers.

    “You don’t have the be the life of the party, but this study supports the theory that maintaining strong social networks seems to be linked to slower cognitive decline,” said senior author Emily Rogalski, associate professor at Northwestern’s CNADC.

    Participants answered a 42-item questionnaire called the Ryff Psychological Well-Being Scale, which is a widely used measure of psychological well-being. The scale examines six aspects of psychological well-being: autonomy, positive relations with others, environmental mastery, personal growth, purpose in life and self-acceptance. SuperAgers scored a median overall score of 40 in positive relations with others while the control group scored 36 — a significant difference, Rogalski said.

    “This finding is particularly exciting as a step toward understanding what factors underlie the preservation of cognitive ability in advanced age, particularly those that may be modifiable,” said first author Amanda Cook, a clinical neuropsychology doctoral student in the laboratory of Rogalski and Sandra Weintraub.

    Other research studies have reported a decline in social networks in people with Alzheimer’s disease and Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI), and previous literature has shown psychological well-being in older age to be associated with reduced risk of developing Alzheimer’s dementia.

    “It’s not as simple as saying if you have a strong social network, you’ll never get Alzheimer’s disease,” Rogalski said. “But if there is a list of healthy choices one can make, such as eating a certain diet and not smoking, maintaining strong social networks may be an important one on that list. None of these things by themself guarantees you don’t get the disease, but they may still have health benefits.


  10. Study suggests some natural environments more psychologically beneficial than others

    November 9, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Surrey press release:

    Spending time in rural and coastal locations is more psychologically beneficial to individuals than time spent in urban green spaces, a new study in the journal Environment & Behavior reports.

    During this innovative study, researchers from the University of Surrey, University of Exeter, University of Plymouth and Plymouth Marine Laboratory worked with Natural England to examine the experiences of over 4,500 people when spending time in nature and investigated for the first time how different environmental settings and their quality impacted on psychological wellbeing.

    Asking participants to describe their visit and to evaluate their overall encounter, researchers discovered that those who visited rural and coastal locations reported greater psychological contentment than those who spent time in urban green spaces, such as city gardens and parks. It was also found that visits to natural areas of protected or designated status i.e. national parks, also resulted in improved mental wellbeing.

    Researchers found these visits to nature (especially those to protected sites and to coastal and rural green settings) were associated with both greater feelings of relaxation and refreshment but also stronger emotional connections to the natural world. Interestingly it was discovered that visits longer than 30 minutes were associated with a better connection and subsequently had greater psychological benefits.

    Socio-economic status was also found not to be a factor in enjoyment of nature, demonstrating the importance of providing free/affordable entrance to sites. This will help prevent socio-economic inequality in accessing nature.

    Lead author of the paper Dr Kayleigh Wyles, who undertook the research whilst at Plymouth Marine Laboratory and now Lecturer in Environmental Psychology at the University of Surrey, said:

    “We’ve demonstrated for some time that nature can be beneficial to us, but we’re still exploring how and why. Here we have found that our mental wellbeing and our emotional bond with nature may differ depending on the type and quality of an environment we visit.

    “These findings are important as they not only help unpick the mechanisms behind these psychological benefits, but they can also help to prioritise the protection of these environments and emphasise why accessibility to nature is so important.”

    Professor Mel Austen, Head of the Sea and Society Science Area at Plymouth Marine Laboratory said: “It was surprising to learn that the extent of protection of marine environments also affects the extent of mental health benefits that people gain from their interactions with the sea.

    “People’s health is likely to become an increasingly important aspect to consider as we manage our coasts and waters for the benefit of all users.”

    The positive benefits of interaction with nature are well documented with numerous studies reporting a reduction of stress levels in participants and an increase in overall wellbeing in those spending time in nature. This is the first study of its kind which shows that different types of natural environments have more of an impact on psychological wellbeing than others.