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Think Work Is Stressful? For Many, It's More Relaxing Than Home
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Think Work Is Stressful? For Many, It's More Relaxing Than Home


Think Work Is Stressful? For Many, It's More Relaxing Than Home
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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Americans say their jobs are stressful, at least that's what a long line of researchers have heard: Complaints of too much to do, not enough time. Well, a new study out today finds most people actually experience more stress at home than at work.

NPR's Jennifer Ludden has more.

JENNIFER LUDDEN, BYLINE: Sure, work is hard. But Pennsylvania State researcher Sarah Damaske wanted to know objectively is it harder than being at home? She had people swab their saliva to get their cortisol levels, a biological marker of stress. Through multiple tests over several days, she found a striking difference. It turns out the most relaxing part of most people's day is when we're on the job.

SARAH DAMASKE: This is across gender, across education level, across occupation level, so pretty strong finding.

LUDDEN: One exception: higher income people actually had more stress at work. Employees also reported how they felt during the study. For men, no big changes. But Damaske says women were significantly more likely to say they were happier at work.

DAMASKE: Part of this might be women are leaving work and then cooking dinner and doing the dishes, and even though men are doing more than they did 30 years ago, it's still not an even distribution.

LUDDEN: There was no gender divide during school drop off this morning in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood of Washington, D.C. We asked: What's the most stressful part of your day?

TONIA NAVAS: Getting the kids up, getting them dressed, packing their lunches.

LUDDEN: Tonia Navas works for an international non-profit while her two kids are in school.

NAVAS: I am at ease, and then I have to pick them up.


NAVAS: It starts all over again.

JASON HAMACHER: Feeding them breakfast. It drives me insane.

LUDDEN: Jason Hamacher is a massage therapist.

HAMACHER: I have to distract my one-year-old with a toy. Maybe some kind of video, which I hate doing but it's the only thing that works. That's the most stressful part of my day.

LUDDEN: Now, surprise: It's not just parents. Today's study finds work is even more of a haven for people without kids, like Leigh Hartless. Standing in line at a food truck, she says she stresses out just thinking about all the stuff she has to do at home, after work.

LEIGH HARTLESS: If you're work life is that stressful you can quit. But your personal life, you can't quit your personal life.

ARLIE HOCHSCHILD: Well, I have to say I'm not surprised.

LUDDEN: Arlie Hochschild is a sociologist with the University of California at Berkeley. She made waves in the late '90s, when her book, "The Time Bind," asserted that for some, home life had become so stressful, work was a refuge. She remembers asking: Where do you feel really good at what you do, relaxed, appreciated?

HOCHSCHILD: And people would say, well, gosh. Actually, if I'm doing the right thing at work, chances are my supervisor's clapping me on the back. But if I'm doing the right thing at home, with my teenager who wants the car and is mad at me, I'm doing the right thing but I'm not appreciated.

LUDDEN: Of course, not all stress is equal, says Hochschild. You still love your squabbling baby. Penn State researcher Sarah Damaske sees her findings as not so much about being harried at home.

DAMASKE: I see it as this is good news. Work is actually good for you. It's good for you because it lowers your biological stress levels.

LUDDEN: So whatever juggling it takes to get to your job, she says, may well be worth it. Jennifer Ludden, NPR News.

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