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Workplace Warning: Risky Situations Increase Anxiety in Women

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According to a new study, job settings with uncertain outcomes increase anxiety in women —but not in men. Such arbitrary situations have the potential for positive or negative results, depending on some combination of skill and chance.Unfortunately, they lead female employees to perform worse than they would under normal circumstances. Study author Susan R. Fisk, a doctoral sociology candidate at Stanford University, notes that people often correlate risky situations with extreme physical danger and financial loss.But employees encounter dubious circumstances every day. Examples include offering an idea at a meeting full of judgmental co-workers, volunteering for a difficult assignment, and critiquing your boss’ performance.

Gender Comparison

Researchers conducted an online experiment of U.S. adults from age 18 to 81 to measure anxiety by gender. Participants imagined work meetings in two types of scenarios. For those in non-risky groups, other members understood that bad ideas are part of the brainstorming process. But in the unpredictable group, colleagues were extremely judgmental about inferior suggestions.Subjects wrote about the reasoning they would use, how they would act and how their assigned situations would make them feel. Women with dicey scenarios scored 13.6 percent higher on follow-up anxiety tests than those in risk-free situations. But men’s anxiety results weren’t significant statistically.Fisk attributed this difference to high-stakes situations being more precarious for women than men. “Prior research suggests that even if a woman has the same objective performance as a man, others are likely to judge her performance as worse and attribute her failure to incompetence instead of poor luck,” Fisk explained. Her research showed that even without the judgment from others, failing in volatile circumstances impacts women more — maybe by reinforcing or creating self-doubt about personal competence.Increased anxiety in risky settings may reduce women’s abilities to achieve. Fisk found that women had worse task performance than men in risky settings — even when they possessed the same ability in safe situations.

Performance Data Results

Fisk based her performance data on two diverse sources. First, an in-person experiment required subjects to complete 20 verbal SAT questions.The proposition of betting money on each answer made the situation risky. If they didn’t place bets, they would receive $15. But placing bets could earn as little as $5 or as much as $55, depending on their bet amounts and number of accurate responses. Women answered about 11 percent fewer questions correctly than men in this variable situation, even after researchers accounted for their general verbal SAT ability. Second, she found a similar effect when using grades from a private university’s undergraduate engineering course. The midterm exam’s unusual grading methodology required students to report confidence in their answers. This created a risky state because more faith in correct answers generated higher scores, but better surety of wrong responses produced lower scores. Scores ranged between -33 and 100 percent with a guarantee of 50 percent if they had no confidence in any of their answers. The final exam posed a risk-free position because students couldn’t lose points. The women’s midterm grades from the tentative situation were around 4 percentage points (almost half a letter grade) lower than men’s grades, even after accounting for their general ability in the engineering course. But the secure final exam outcome found no differences in grades between the genders. “My findings have troublesome implications for women’s ability to achieve equality in the workplace,” Fisk said. If they shy away from high-risk, high-reward job situations or under perform out of anxiety, they’ll reap fewer rewards than otherwise similar men. This “may be an unexplored contributor to the dearth of women in positions of leadership and power, as success in these kinds of circumstances is often a precursor to career advancement and promotion.”

Anxiety Is TreatableWoman doing yoga

While anxiety is a normal reaction to stress,it can become excessive and affect daily living negatively. Unlike relatively mild, brief apprehension that coincides with a stressful event (such as speaking in public or a first date), extreme irrational fear and dread characterize anxiety disorders that last for at least six months. Symptoms can be hard to control and worsen without treatment. Anxiety disorders occur commonly along with other mental or physical illnesses, excess alcohol consumption, or substance abuse, which may mask anxiety symptoms or make them worse. You may need treatment for underlying conditions before you’ll respond to anxiety disorder remedies. Antidepressants like Zyban can help most patients lead productive, fulfilling lives.

Meditation Also Brings Relief

A Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine review of previously published research found that meditating 30 minutes per day reduced mild anxiety symptoms.Mindfulness meditation, the type that showed the most promise, is a very active form of Buddhist self-awareness principles. It emphasizes nonjudgmental acceptance of current feelings and thoughts as well as body and mind relaxation. Madhav Goyal, M.D., M.P.H., and his colleagues analyzed 47 randomized clinical trials that occurred through June 2013 and included 3515 participants with various mental and physical health issues. They discovered moderate evidence of decreased anxiety, depression, and pain symptoms after participants underwent mindfulness meditation programs that lasted eight weeks usually. When studies followed subjects for six months, improvements continued typically.

Take Action Today

If you’re suffering from unmanageable, long-term anxiety related to your job or other aspects of your life, seek diagnosis and treatment promptly. Add a daily meditation routine to reclaim control and contentment at work and home.

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