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How Avoidance Strategies Help Reduce Stress

Update Date: Jul 09, 2013 06:08 PM EDT

Avoidance strategies can help relieve stress, according to a new study.

People who juggle school, work and life often experience dissatisfaction that can lead to stress.  For instance, skipping a social function to stay late at work can lead to less satisfaction with work.

Researchers Bonnie Cheng, a PhD candidate at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management, and Julie McCarthy, an associate professor at the Rotman School and the University of Toronto Scarborough, found that avoidance techniques could help people manage stress.

The study included a group of undergraduate students who worked outside of school and had family responsibilities. They survey the students at two different points in time to measure how much conflict students were experiencing from their competing responsibilities, the different coping mechanisms they used to deal with them and how much satisfaction that got from their activities.

Researchers found that students who used avoidance strategies, such as not dwelling on their problems, experienced more satisfaction and were significantly better at managing conflict across work, family, and school.

"Our intuitive notion of avoidance is that it's counter-productive, that it's running away from your problems," Cheng said, noting that there are different kinds of avoidance.

"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," she explained.

Researchers said the trick is not allowing avoidance to turn into escapism. Cheng said avoidance strategies are equally applicable to any situation where people are juggling many responsibilities, like volunteering and coaching.

Cheng explained that avoidance strategies work because they give the mind an occasional break.  Offices and schools can help relieve stress by providing places like lounges where people can go to detach a little by socializing, meditating, listening to music, or whatever works best for them.

Researchers said the latest findings can help empower people to manage work, family and school responsibilities.

"That's not to devalue organizational initiatives," Cheng added. "We see this as something people can do on their own, in tandem with organizational initiatives."

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