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Work Stress and Heart Disease

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Are you under a lot of stress at work? Well, if you are not handling it well, it could be making you more at risk for heart disease.

An image of someone stressed-out at work

First, let’s set the record straight. We are all under some stress, and most people at work are under a lot of it. But just because you have a stressful job, such as an air traffic controller, police officer, or computer worker, does not mean your health need suffer. Many such people thrive on their pressures, and indeed wither into death or senility within a few short years of idle retirement. But if you are not handling these job stresses well, then indeed there is cause for concern.

A recently published study in the Journal of the American Medical Association looked at over two hundred men, aged 30 to 60 years. About one in five suffered job stress, such as impending mergers, trouble with a bad boss, and economic factors. These highly stressed individuals were three times as likely to have high blood pressure as their peers. Even more alarmingly, all men aged thirty to forty with high stress jobs had a clinically significant thickening of the heart's left ventricle. This means that there is something happening inside your body when you have chronic job stress, and rather than responding by passively adopting bad habits, it is critical for you to take control.

People with highly stressful jobs but little real control over decision making are running a 23% increased risk of a heart attack, according to authoritative research.

Many people in today's world, where the pace of life is fast and money is tight, may consider themselves stressed at work, but the definition used by authors of the study in the Lancet medical journal is precise. They considered job strain to involve high demands on the individual and little freedom to make his or her own decisions about how and when to do the work.

This sort of stress is to be found among all sorts of people, holding down all sorts of jobs on both high and low salaries, said one of the authors of the study, Professor Andrew Steptoe of the department of epidemiology and public health at University College London.

"It is the coupling [of high demand and low control] that is problematic," he said. "It is more common in low income jobs where people are doing the same thing again and again, such as assembly line work, but it is across the whole social spectrum.

When one has high job stress, the tendency is to pay less attention to good nutrition, learning skills of relaxation and exercise, and more inclination to talk shop all through one's spare time hours. It may very well be that it is these choices, and not the job itself, that account for most of the associated heart disease. If you are in a stressful job, you owe it to yourself to fight back with ‘active participation’. Eat good foods, exercise regularly, develop skills of relaxation, and focus on other interests in your spare time to get your mind off work.

Given that 1 in 3 Americans suffers from heart problems, managing work-related stress is key. Here are some recommendations from the American Heart Association:

  • Practice positive self-talk: Instead of telling yourself, “everything is going wrong,” think, “I can handle things if I take one step at a time.”
  • Identify emergency stress stoppers that work for you: For example, count to 10 before you speak or go for a walk.
  • Find pleasure in simple activities: Try to do at least one thing a day that you enjoy, like listening to music or meeting friends for lunch.
  • Take time to relax daily: Calm tension in your mind and body through yoga or meditation.

 

Most of all, ask yourself if you really like the job in the first place, or are just in a rut. If you no longer enjoy your work, be flexible enough to consider planning for a change, for the sake of your heart. The most stressful job in the world is after all the one for which you are not suited.


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