The study, published yesterday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, set out to determine how leadership correlates with anxiety. Through a series of experiments, researchers at Harvard determined that leaders (in this case, managers in fields such as finance, real estate, and government) not only reported less stress than non-leaders, but also had 27 percent less cortisol, the hormone linked to anxiety. Additionally, the study found that even among leaders, higher rank was linked to lower stress.
According to lead study author Gary Sherman, the reason for this is likely rooted in the sense of control that come with being a leader; feeling like you have little control over things is a major trigger of stress. Dr. Paul Spector, a professor of organizational psychology at the University of South Florida in Tampa, agrees. “Extra responsibility and higher workload can cause stress for leaders, but on the other hand, they have more control.”
While the study was preliminary and focused exclusively on professional leadership, it “does point to the importance of gaining leadership and a sense of control that would buffer against stress,” says Sherman. According to Dr. Spector, this is particularly true if you like the work. “It is not stressful when you are doing something that you enjoy.”
So if there’s something stressing you out – whether it’s a work project, an upcoming event, the PTA, etc. – taking the helm in some way might actually help you unload some of that anxiety… like a boss.