The Secret To Low Stress: Control
A new study reveals that the leaders of the nation’s political, military, business and nonprofit organizations are a pretty relaxed bunch, writes Melissa Healy of the Los Angeles Times. Compared with people of similar age, gender and ethnicity who haven’t made it to the top, leaders pronounced themselves less stressed and anxious. And their levels of cortisol, a hormone that circulates at high levels in the chronically stressed, told the same story. The source of the leaders’ relative serenity was pretty simple, says Healy: control.
“Compared with workers who toil in lower echelons of the American economy, the leaders studied by a group of Harvard University researchers enjoyed control over their schedules, their daily living circumstances, their financial security, their enterprises and their lives.
‘Leaders possess a particular psychological resource — a sense of control — that may buffer against stress,’ the research team reported Monday in Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences.
‘It’s clear that having a sense of control is protective against stress,’ said Nichole Lighthall, who researches stress and its effects at Duke University and was not involved in the new study. ‘People in a company at all levels may be affected by the market and its unpredictability,’ she said. But while rank-and-file employees may worry about being laid off, chief executives can pretty much rest assured that ‘they’ll keep their position in society, their superiority, their lifestyle and their income’ even if the organization over which they preside suffers, she said.
The results showed that compared to non-leaders, leaders’ sense of control and propensity toward anxiety were lower. So were their cortisol levels, providing physiological proof that they were less stressed. When the researchers focused on differences within a group of 75 leaders, they found that the larger the pool of workers an individual managed, the lower he or she scored on measures of stress and anxiety.
Samuel Barondes, director of the University of California, San Francisco’s Center for Neurobiology and Psychiatry, said the study didn’t reveal whether leaders became less stressed as they climbed toward the top or whether they were less prone to stress in the first place, facilitating their ascent. He suspects it’s a combination of both, but either way, ‘once you’ve made it and are not at the whim of capricious meanies above you in the hierarchy, you are less stressed,’ said Barondes.” Read more here.
I wonder how we could find ways to give workers—and students—more control over how they spend their time and how they allocate their efforts. The evidence suggests that better learning and better work would be the result, not to mention healthier, less-stressed people.