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New Study Links Overeating and Lack of Sleep to Stress at Work

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Your boss’s temper and your high workload are doing damage to more than just your ego

Researchers at Michigan State University recently discovered a link between stress in the workplace and unhealthy habits at home. So, yes: When your boss yells at you, the experience could actually be wrecking your health.

Time to rethink your nine to five? The results of this study imply that leaving your stressful job could help you significantly improve your eating habits. While few previous studies have investigated the effects of your workplace experience on food choices at dinner and late at night, this study, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, has strong implications about negative psychological experiences and their impact on health.

“We found that employees who have a stressful workday tend to bring their negative feelings from the workplace to the dinner table,” said Chu-Hsiang "Daisy" Chang, MSU associate professor of psychology and co-author of the study. People with negative psychological experiences at work manifested this by “eating more than usual and opting for more junk food instead of healthy food.”

Dinner is a critical time for keeping up healthy habits — you’re eating before you go to bed, you’re bonding with family members, and you’re modeling health habits for the other members of your household. Even watching TV during dinnertime could be harmful to your health. Healthy eating also has a huge impact on your mental health — unhealthy dinner habits could contribute to even more stress at work the following day.

So what effect does the increase in stress at work have? “When feeling stressed out by work,” explains Yihao Liu, another co-author and an assistant professor at the University of Illinois, “individuals usually experience inadequacy in exerting effective control.” This loss of control results in even more junk food: a vicious (though likely delicious) cycle.

If your health isn’t a strong enough reason to cleanse the negativity from your workplace, I’m not sure what is. But if you’re stuck in a rut at work or are committed to a particularly fast-paced profession, there is one more thing you can do: sleep.

The study didn’t stop at the food. Health is always about more than just food — so the study also observed the sleep habits of the 235 workers in the study. Workers who consistently got a full night’s sleep had better eating habits once they got home, despite an equivalent level of stress. The sleep “can make workers replenished and feel vigorous again,” Chang explains. “Which may make them better able to deal with stress at work the next day and less vulnerable to unhealthy eating.”

Whether you eat healthy or not, a good night’s sleep could guard you from the full effect of workplace tension. Instead of turning to a bag of potato chips to comfort you when you get home after a long day, cook something healthy and head to bed. The science doesn’t lie: You’ll probably feel much better the next day.

For 10 quick and healthy dinners you can make ahead of time, click here.

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