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Member Research and Reports

Member Research and Reports

Oregon State: Repeatedly Thinking about Work-Family Conflict Linked to Health Problems

Thinking over and over again about conflicts between your job and personal life is likely to damage both your mental and physical health, research from Oregon State University suggests.

dr-kelly-davis
[Photo:Dr. Kelly D. Davis]

The study included more than 200 people, with results showing that “repetitive thought” was a pathway between work-family conflict and negative outcomes in six different health categories.

As the term suggests, repetitive thought regarding work-family conflict refers to thinking repeatedly and attentively about the parts of your job and your personal life that clash with each other: for example, that late-afternoon meeting that prevents you from attending your son’s baseball game. It’s a maladaptive coping strategy that impedes daily recovery from stress.

Dr. Kelly D. Davis of OSU’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences was the lead author on the project funded by Pennsylvania State University’s Social Science Research Institute and Penn State’s Center for Healthy Aging.

The journal Stress & Health recently published the results.

Dr. Davis, an assistant professor in the CPHHS School of Social and Behavioral Health Sciences, says repetitive thought over work-family conflict keeps the stressor active and thus gets in the way of recovery.

The study involved 203 adults ages 24 to 76. Each was in a romantic relationship, and roughly two-thirds had at least one child at home.

Results showed a link between repetitive thought and negative outcomes in the health categories of life satisfaction, positive affect, negative affect, fatigue, perceived health, and health conditions.

Positive affect is the extent to which a person subjectively experiences positive moods, and negative affect is the extent to which someone experiences negative moods. In this study, health conditions referred to a list of 22 conditions or problems, such as stroke or diabetes. Participants were scored based on how many times they answered yes.

In the category of perceived health, participants were asked to rate their health on a five-point scale.

“The main objective of this study was to test a conceptual model in which repetitive thought explained the association between work-family conflict and health,” Dr. Davis said. “There was support for repetitive thought as a mediator in the association between work-family conflict and all six health outcomes.”

Repetitive thought is related to two other types of cognition that also can have adverse effects on health: rumination and worry. Rumination is persistent, redundant thinking that usually looks backward and is associated with depression; worry is also persistent, redundant thinking but tends to look forward and is typically more associated with anxious apprehension.

“Practitioners can assist individuals facing the dual demands of work and family by reducing repetitive thought, and the related issues of worry and rumination,” Dr. Davis said.

One technique that can help is mindfulness: intentionally paying attention to the present-moment experience, such as physical sensations, perceptions, affective states, thoughts and imagery, in a nonjudgmental way.

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