Stress boosts good and bad habits

People struggling with stress management are more likely maintain habits, whether they are good or bad.

Researchers at the University of Southern California found that under different types of stress, participants in studies strengthened investment in habits including cycling, smoking, exercising, eating junk food and alcohol consumption.

The behaviour of 65 students was studied over a ten-week period, with sleep-deprived people significantly more likely to stick to their habits as they did not have the energy to deviate from normative behaviour.

Additionally, those who go to the gym were seen to do so more often when under stressful conditions and people who ate pastries and doughnuts for breakfast did so with heightened regularity during exam periods.

Professor Wendy Wood, who was the lead researcher on the study, said: “When we try to change our behaviour, we strategise about our motivation and self-control. But what we should be thinking about instead is how to set up new habits.”

Effective stress management measures include yoga, jogging, medication, exercise and communicative therapy.

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