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February 2024

Why Your Work Stress Isn’t Invited to Dinner

Leaving stress at work is easier said than done. But new research suggests that keeping work stress out of the home—and particularly away from the family table—may be more important than we thought

In fact, what starts for you at work may end up affecting the physical and psychological well-being of your children.

How the work stress dominoes fall

A study recently published in the Journal of Family Psychology lays out the basics of this chain reaction:

  • If a parent is unhappy with their job when their child is age 2, then …

  • Their family spends fewer quality mealtimes together, which …

  • Is associated with the child showing lower social and emotional skills at age 4 to 5.

The findings show both a mother’s and father’s job dissatisfaction can negatively affect a child’s social-emotional skills.

Why family mealtimes are so important

For busy working parents, these findings may sound discouraging. With hectic schedules, it can seem impossible to make time for a family meal—especially when you’re already stressed from work.

But the positive effects of family mealtimes make them worth the effort. Here are just a few of the benefits:

  • Improved family relationships

  • Better performance in school

  • Reduced stress—for both kids and parents

  • Lower risk for obesity

  • Reduced risk for eating disorders in female kids

  • Decreased use of nicotine, alcohol, and drugs in teens

How to lower stress and make mealtimes work

So, parents face a few challenges here: Try to manage workplace stress, since that can spark this whole chain of events. And try to be present for quality family mealtimes.

Of course, managing workplace stress isn’t so easy. More than 80% of U.S. workers experience work-related stress. Try relaxation methods like deep breathing, meditation, and talk therapy. And if your workplace offers mental health or stress-reducing resources, take advantage of those.

And here are some tips to make the most of family meals:

  • Keep recipes simple, instead of making something elaborate.

  • Make the family table screen-free.

  • Get everyone involved in meal planning and preparation.

  • Keep conversation light and fun.



Online Medical Reviewer: Brian McDonough, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Stacey Wojcik, MBA, BSN, RN
Date Last Reviewed: 12/1/2023
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