Need one more reason to reduce job stress? According to Harvard researchers who analyzed the results of a 20 year study, work-related tension greatly increases the risk of heart attack in women.

When the researchers looked at job strain in a study of 17,415 participants funded by National Institutes of Health, they found that women with high-stress jobs face about 88 percent greater risk for a heart attack than do women with low workplace strain. The risk of experiencing any cardiovascular event was about 40% higher in women with job stress.

Michelle A. Albert, MD, MPH, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital and one of the study researchers, noted that prior studies have linked cardiovascular disease to job stress in men but similar research regarding women has been lacking. “This study shows that the cardiovascular health effects of job strain in women are both immediate and long-term,” said Albert. “Your job can impact your health in positive and negative ways so it’s important to pay attention to job stresses.”

Albert defines job strain as a position with demanding tasks but little authority or creativity, or with demanding tasks with a great deal of authority. In essence, authority or no authority, today’s demanding jobs can have long-term effects on your health.

“From a public health perspective, it’s crucial for employers, potential patients, as well as government and hospitals entities to monitor perceived employee job strain and initiate programs to alleviate job strain and perhaps positively impact prevention of heart disease,” Albert said. These strategies can help defuse workplace tension:

Communicate effectively

One of the biggest triggers of workplace stress is the worker’s inability to express needs and concerns effectively to superiors. People who speak up for themselves in a thoughtful, tactful way feel more in control, thus reducing stress.

Identify and confront tension triggers

Keep a stress diary of the situations and people that prompt a negative response or cause stressful feelings. Tackle one situation at a time. For instance, limit contact and interactions with unpleasant co-workers as much as possible.

Get active

Exercise reduces stress by increasing endorphins, the brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters. It also diverts attention from the aggravations and frustrations and improves mood. In addition, physical activity can improve sleep, ease stress levels and instill a sense of control.

Try yoga

Harvard Health Publications cites a 2005 German study which found that women who took a 90 minute yoga class, two days a week showed improvement in symptoms related to anxiety, depression, and stress.


Follow the National Institutes of Health’s interactive tutorial on Managing Stress. Rate your stress level using the Mayo Clinic’s Stress Assessment guide.