Got a high-stress job? Beware: You may be at risk for more serious medical conditions.
A recent study suggests that women with high-stress jobs are significantly more likely to experience some form of cardiovascular disease (CVD) or “heart event” than those with low-stress jobs.
The study, published in online science journal PLoS ONE, tracked 22,000 women in healthcare professions over the course of ten years. Researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital divided the women into four categories based on two factors: the strenuousness of a woman’s professional tasks and the level of control a woman asserted over these tasks. The categories were as follows:
- Low Strain: low demand, high control
- Passive: low demand, low control
- Active: high demand, high control
- High Strain: high demand, low control
Researchers discovered that both high-strain and active women were at severe risk for cardiovascular disease and heart attacks. In fact, the two sets of women were equally likely to face heart problems in the future; each set was 38% more likely to experience cardiovascular disease or heart attack than low-strain women.
The surprising results continue. For example, the study showed that job insecurity (a woman’s insecurity about her professional standing) had no influence over a woman’s future heart health. In addition, high-strain women were a whopping 67% more likely to experience non-fatal heart attacks than low-strain women.
But what sort of stress is at stake here? As Dr. Michelle Albert, one of the doctors behinds the study, explains, it’s overwhelming professional stress: “The stress we’re talking about here is stress that exceeds the body’s capacity to manage or adapt appropriately.”
And even if stress doesn’t affect your health immediately, it could lead to choices that might. Researchers surmise: “Job strain may influence risk of CVD indirectly through behavioral responses such as smoking and depression, or directly via physiological stress processes.”
No matter how stress exposes itself in the office, researchers believe that the burden lies in the hands of employers, not employees. Researchers call for improved “psychosocial characteristics of the work environment” (office culture) and “employee work models that minimize work stress” (improved processes).
If you’re worried that professional stress–or any stress–is hurting your health, try these six ways to combat it.