Quick Study: Stressed at Work? You May Be Risking a Heart Attack

Workplace stress is all too common in the U.S., but there are ways to ease it.

job stress, cardiovascular disease, heart attack

More than a third of people feel stressed out at work, the American Psychological Association says. (Photo: Tom Grill/Getty Images)

Jeannine Stein, a California native, wrote about health for the Los Angeles Times. In her pursuit of a healthy lifestyle she has taken countless fitness classes, hiked in Nepal and got in a boxing ring.

The study: Having a job that’s high in stress but low in power could be bad for your heart. A study released this week in the Lancet found that people who experience job strain have a 23 percent increased risk of having a heart attack compared to their peers who have it easier at work.

Researchers analyzed 13 studies that included 197,473 people who were followed for an average 7.5 years. Even after controlling for age, gender, lifestyle and other factors, the increased risk remained. The study didn’t find a cause and effect between stress and heart attack. But if there were a direct link, by reducing workplace stress, the authors said, heart attacks would come down in number too.

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What we already know: Stress is a factor in heart disease, along with usual suspects such as smoking, diet and lack of activity. How does stress affect the heart? Stress prompts the production of adrenaline and cortisol, which can boost blood pressure and give you energy, the Mayo Clinic says. But if that surge surges stays elevated, over time it can result in damage to the body’s systems and organs. A 2010 study in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism linked high cortisol levels to a substantial increase in death rates from heart attack and stroke.

How stressed are we? A 2010 Gallup poll found that when Americans were asked to rate aspects of their job environments, they were least happy about workplace stress. A 2011 Stress in the Workplace report from the American Psychological Association found that 36 percent of people surveyed said they usually feel stressed out or tense during the workday, and 49 percent said their low pay has a pretty strong influence on that stress. Since stress is so prevalent and is linked with a number of health problems, many health experts argue that it’s become a public health issue.

What this means for you: Although factors like smoking and being a couch potato may have a bigger impact on heart disease than stress, stress shouldn’t be ignored. The Mayo Clinic recommends being proactive about stressors such as lack of time and finding ways to alleviate them. Even taking a five or 10-minute break to clear your head and shake off some anxiety can go a long way in easing tension.

How do you combat workplace stress? Let us know in the comments.

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