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Workplace Stress Reduction Program Can Have Lasting Effects

     

Americans are feeling stress, anger and worry at the highest levels in a decade, according to a recent annual Gallup poll. Work can often be a big source of stress. Only about half of workers are comfortable talking with co-workers about mental health issues and about a third are concerned about retaliation if the seek mental healthcare, according to a recent national poll from the American Psychiatric Association (APA).

A person sitting in front of a door

Description automatically generatedA new study finds that a workplace stress reduction program can have not only short-term benefits, but also long-term health and mental health benefits. Researchers in Germany looked at the long-term effectiveness of a workplace-based stress reduction training program and found that after seven years the program still had positive physical and mental health benefits. The study looked at several components of work-related stress – work overload, social conflict, social stress and failure at work. 

The stress reduction program focused on stress reactivity—individual differences in reactions to stress or the “disposition of a person to respond to stressors with immediate, strong, and long-lasting stress reaction.” Stress reactivity can be changed through stress management interventions, such as learning to identify symptoms of strain and techniques to deal with them, which can help buffer the negative health consequences of stress.

The training involved a two-day basic seminar and two half-day follow up sessions within the following three to six months. The program used modified techniques of group psychotherapy to increase early identification and improve understanding of typical work stress situations; to provide tools to deal with typical stressful situations; and to identify and strengthen social networks and social support. Participants were also encouraged to exercise regularly.  More than one hundred study participants were assessed before the intervention (2006), just after the intervention (2008) and seven years later (2015). 

The stress management training resulted in improvements in stress reactivity after the training and positive effects on depression, anxiety, and sleep problems seven years later. One technique that appeared especially successful, according to the researchers, was psychological detachment from work during nonwork time. This refers to people mentally disconnecting from work and intentionally avoiding focusing on job issues while away from work. Other research has shown that psychological detachment from work during nonwork time is important for recovering from stress and maintaining employee well-being and does not lead to less engagement at work.

The reduction in stress reactivity had strong effects on sleep problems, and the researchers note sleep is of particular importance:  “As impaired sleep constitutes a gateway to manifold diseases, including myocardial infarction, autoimmune diseases, and depression, it is highly valuable to prevent sleep problems by reducing stress reactivity.” They suggest that for practical implementation “training focusing on practices to deal with stress and on detachment from work stress seems especially advisable.”

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