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Sniff an armpit to beat stress

Published Feb 20, 2007


By Kim Bielenberg

Don't be too surprised if your female colleagues go around sniffing armpits this week. They are just following the latest guidelines on how to relieve stress in the workplace.

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Combining the latest research on workplace happiness, the New Scientist magazine has produced a new guide to a "stress-free career".

Smell a colleague

Sniffing a man's armpit helps women to be happier, if we are to believe latest research by boffins.

New Scientist tells how George Preti, at the Monell Chemical Senses Centre in Philadelphia, exposed 18 female volunteers to extracts from the armpit sweat of six men in an experiment.

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The volunteers felt "less tense" and "more relaxed" as they sniffed. But be warned. You could be accused of harassment or wasting company time.

And, of course, you shouldn't do it to customers if you work in a bank, or if you are a judge.

Go for a pint of oxygen

Instead of the traditional lunchtime pint, office workers in Dublin can avail of a trip to an oxygen bar. Advocates of this technique claim that breathing in a cocktail containing 30 percent oxygen as compared with the 21 percent you get out in the open air has a relaxing effect.

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Although it includes breathing oxygen in its report, the New Scientist says evidence about its beneficial effects is so far inconclusive. Alternatively, you could just try a breath of fresh air.

Bring Fido to work

If smelling body odours isn't your thing during an accounts meeting, you could always bring your cat, puppy or hamster in to work in order to calm things down. Research shows that stroking pets enhances the sense of wellbeing at work.

There could be practical problems, as employers tend to discourage the presence of Rover or Tiddles at board meetings.

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And the New Scientist does not state whether Fido therapy works with pets such goldfish and homing pigeons.

For those cannot who cannot bring along a pet, workers in Tokyo now have another option. An "animal therapy" centre in the back of a shop called Cats Livin' lets office workers nip out in the middle of the day to rub a cat "in a home-like setting". This is supposed to relieve stress.

Chinwag with workmates

The New Scientist report says you should hang out at the water cooler with colleagues and shoot the breeze.

Schmooze up to your boss at boozy lunches, get drunk with colleagues and don't be afraid to offload your problems on to workmates (not to mention, offloading your work).

Social support from work colleagues helps to lower stress levels, according to the study.

Men with low social support, they found, were 31 percent more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression. In the case of women the figure was 43 percent.

When it comes to yapping with colleagues, you have to strike a balance.

It is easy to spend so much time trading gossip, emailing colleagues, and going to pointless meetings that you cannot actually get anything done. This is itself stressful.

Don't go to bed with your Blackberry

To reduce stress levels, workers should be able to forget about work completely. This is not advisable when you are actually at work, however.

"Psychological detachment" from the office is associated with less fatigue, more positive mood and fewer days off work.

Researchers warn that many people are addicted to work-related gadgets such as BlackBerries or mobile phones.

So addicted, in fact, that the BlackBerry has even acquired the nickname ‘crackberry'.

The report tells of husbands who keep their BlackBerries on their pillows when they are having sex.

If work worries are keeping you awake at night, you should write them down on a piece of paper before you go to sleep - in order to lay them aside. But don't do this during foreplay.

US doctor Edward Hallowell said: "Just as we learn how to drink responsibly, so we need to learn to use technology”. He said compulsive email checkers should keep an egg-timer beside their home computer to call time.

Bunk off when you want

If your working hours are getting you down, you will be happier if you decide them yourself.

According to the New Scientist, work is less stressful when you have more control over your working hours and days off.

Finnish researchers asked over 32 000 full-time public-sector employees about how much control they had over the length of their workday and breaks, and how easy it was to take holidays or compassionate leave.

They discovered that more control made people happier.

Clamber over colleagues

While it is good to talk, you should also clamber up the greasy pole of promotion as fast as you can, trampling on your workmates as you go. According to the New Scientist stress levels are higher among lower grades of employee. The study of British civil servants found that the lower a man's rank in an organisation the more likely he was to kick the bucket from illnesses such as coronary artery disease.

Become a nerd

Studious type who acquire top degrees are healthier, according to researchers at Stockholm University.

People with university doctorates live longer than people with Master's degrees, who in turn live longer than people with only a Bachelor's degree.

A study found that men aged 64 with a basic third level education had a greater rate of mortality than men with doctorates.

So it's time to swot up on the life cycle of the lesser spotted Yucatan Beetle. It will make you full of the joys of spring.

Shut your neighbour up

Jacqueline Vischer of the University of Montreal says many workers are suffering added stress because they have the wrong sort of work space. Desks are too narrow for swinging your arms around; and the office is cluttered with decaying plants, disused files and unwashed cups. But worst of all, you find yourself stuck next to a loud-mouthed colleague who regales everyone with telephone details of childcare arrangements.

Uncomfortable chairs, an air-con system that always blows too hot or too cold and lack of natural light all add to the aggro. Jacqueline Vischer says workers need to feel "psychological comfort".

The ideal partition should be 1,3m high, tall enough to give you some privacy, but never so high that you feel you are alone.

Take a nap

When all those meetings and your colleagues make you dissolve in tedium, you could simply nod off. But then you are in danger of being woken up an hour later by a cantankerous boss who makes you feel even more stressed out with his unreasonable demands that you stay awake.

Companies in the US have realised that there is a market for midday office shut-eye. In New York, a company called MetroNaps will sell you 15 minutes of sleep for just $14 (about R100). Stressed-out office workers tuck themselves into a into a "pod" and doze away until a gentle shaking and raising of the lights rouse them.

It is surely only a matter time before an Irish company provides a similar service. Stressed-out farmers have the option of falling asleep under a haystack.

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