By Natasha Persaud
If you find yourself muttering, "This job is stressing me out!" don’t ignore it. A Lancet study of nearly 200,000 people from seven European countries estimates that about 3 percent of heart attacks can be traced to job strain. According to the study, having many responsibilities and little decision-making power confers a 23 percent greater risk of developing heart disease and its complications.
For the study, researchers tracked job strain for an average of 7.5 years in employees who had no coronary heart disease to start. Participants completed questionnaires about their job demands, workload, deadline pressures, learning opportunities and abilities to make decisions. Heart attacks (due to decreased blood flow) and sudden cardiac death (from heart rhythm disturbances) were then noted.
Compared to traditional risk factors, job strain appeared to be a relatively minor contributor to heart disease, the study authors acknowledged—but it’s far from insignificant. Job strain may increase blood pressure and tax the body’s "fight or flight" response, they noted. If job stress is poorly managed, it can also lead to other heart disease risk factors such as smoking, overeating, inactivity and weight gain.
Dialing Down Stress
Short of finding a new job, you do have remedies for chronic stress. Try these healthy ways of coping with job stress, and you may reduce several of your heart disease risk factors:
Kivimaki, M. et al. “Job Strain as a Risk Factor for Coronary Heart Disease.” The Lancet, published online Sept 14, 2012.