Cardiologist, author, and heart health expert Dr. Sarah Samaan offers advice on how to live a heart smart life.See all posts »
Women, Stress, and the Workplace: Job Strain Linked to Heart Risk
Stress is a part of life for most of us. While we can’t usually eliminate it, we can find healthy ways to cope with stress that will make its effects less toxic.
Recently I have noticed a growing sense of stress and anxiety in many of my working patients. As the economy has contracted and businesses have been forced to work “leaner and meaner,” many jobs have been eliminated, and many more are considered at risk. What this means is that those who have been spared the dreaded yellow slip are having to work harder and dedicate more hours to the workplace, all the while constantly looking over their shoulder to be sure that theirs is not the next position to be cut.
Is it any wonder that stress contributes to heart disease?
When I was doing research for my book, Best Practices for a Healthy Heart, most of the studies I reviewed about stress and heart health suggested that stress in which the individual retained a sense of control was much less likely to cause trouble with the heart, whereas stress associated with little control and an unsupportive boss or spouse was especially risky. Now an analysis of over 22,000 women health professionals who participated in the Women’s Health Study and were followed for 10 years finds that any form of job stress appears to raise a woman’s risk for heart disease.
In this study, high demand appeared to be a critical factor, whether or not the women were functioning in high-level positions at work. Even when adjusted for other factors such as race, education, and income, women whose jobs were considered demanding were nearly 40% more likely to develop cardiovascular disease (including heart attacks and strokes) than those whose jobs were low key. The presence of other risk factors did not impact the effect amongst those women who held high-level jobs.
How can this new information help us? Most importantly, we need to recognize the physical as well as emotional toll that stress can take on us. Many men and women, myself included, thrive in jobs in which stress is a daily part of life, but that doesn’t mean that we are immune to its effects. We must learn to take time to care for ourselves, mind, body, and spirit. This includes nurturing the relationships that are important to us, making time for exercise, acknowledging our spiritual needs, and choosing food that sustains and nourishes us.
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