Work strain takes its toll on the heart

Do you have a stressful job? Would you need 36 hours in a day to get everything done? Take it easy on yourself! Québec City researchers have shown that work stress could increase blood pressure in the long term. That’s bad news for the heart!

Do you have a stressful job? Would you need 36 hours in a day to get everything done? Take it easy on yourself! Québec City researchers have shown that work stress could increase blood pressure in the long term. That’s bad news for the heart!

Stress is an undeniable part of our lives and work can add to it greatly. Tight deadlines, complex tasks to perform, employer and client demands, lack of time, accumulated fatigue, noise, responsibilities and intolerance to error can put a lot of pressure on workers’ frail shoulders. Stress can manifest itself in many ways and it can knock people out if it remains unmanaged. In fact, burnout cases are on the rise and are costing insurance companies a fortune.

The consequences of stress can also be purely physical and can bring about muscular tension, headaches, backaches, fatigue, sleep disturbances, tightness in the throat, knots in the stomach, heart palpitations or intestinal disturbances. It had also long been suspected that stress could contribute to hypertension, a hypothesis now confirmed by the Québec team.

For over seven years, the researchers followed about 6,700 male and female white-collar workers from the area. The participants completed a questionnaire about their physical activity level, smoking history and other risk factors for hypertension and cardiovascular disease (e.g. family history, description of their work and social life). The researchers also measured their blood pressure on several occasions.

They found that the men who faced a high level of stress at work throughout the course of the study and at follow-up had higher blood pressure than those who experienced no job stress. The same trend was observed among women, although the effects of stress were less pronounced in their case. Workers who had low levels of support from their supervisors and colleagues were at an even higher risk of increased blood pressure. Social support appears to have a protective effect. Indeed, no increase in blood pressure was observed among those exposed to high levels of stress but with strong social support at work.

Adopting stress-relief measures at work has been proven beneficial to workers and management, while also improving the working climate. This study could be yet another reason to rethink the way work is organized.

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