07/11/2013 02:58 pm ET

Feeling Stressed? 'Taking Your Mind Off It' Might Do The Trick, Study Finds


When presented with conflicts and stressful situations, we're often told that the best way to cope is to tackle the issue head-on. But when it comes to balancing multiple roles and conflicting obligations, new research has found that taking your mind off what's bugging you can be a surprisingly effective stress reliever.

According to researchers at University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management, conflicts among obligations at work, school, and home can cause us to become dissatisfied with whichever domain of life led us to make the sacrifices. For example, if you miss a family member's birthday celebration because you're working late, you're likely to become less satisfied at work.

The University of Toronto study found that when faced with the obstacle of balancing multiple roles, avoidance strategies -- yes, running away from your problems -- can be an effective way to relieve the stress of conflicting demands. The research showed that those who did not dwell on their problems were better able to cope with conflicts at work, school and home, and reported experiencing greater satisfaction in all three domains.

The study was conducted on undergraduate students who also had jobs and family obligations outside of school. The students were surveyed at two different points to determine how much conflict due to competing responsibilities they had to deal with, the coping mechanisms they were employing, and the level of satisfaction they derived from the activities. Those who used avoidance strategies -- i.e. not ruminating over or dwelling on their problems -- were found to manage conflict better and get more satisfaction out of their activities.

"Our intuitive notion of avoidance is that it's counter-productive, that it's running away from your problems," Bonnie Cheng, one of the study's authors and a Ph.D. candidate at the Rotman School of Management, said in a statement. "We found that while wishing for your problems to magically disappear is counterproductive, the process of taking your mind off the problems at hand actually helped people manage multiple role responsibilities and increased their satisfaction."

However, the study's authors note, it's important to distinguish between avoidance and escapism. What's effective about avoidance strategies, the study concludes, is that they provide your mind with just a break from stress and worry.

In addition to relieving stress and improving the quality of life, avoiding worry can be beneficial to physical and mental health in a number of ways. Excessive worry has been found to negatively impact interpersonal relationships, and has been linked with increased anxiety and difficulty sleeping.



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