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Changing Lifestyles, Changing Habits: Your Heart, Your Work, Your Spouse

separator Your job may have a lot to do with the health of your heart. Research has shown that stress at work can double the risk of death from

  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Non-heart attack cardiovascular conditions

A good indicator of a workplace that isn’t stressful is one where you feel as if you’re getting fair treatment. If your supervisor takes what you say into account, lets you in on the reasons behind decision-making and seems fair and truthful, chances are your stress level at work is under control.

A recent study of workers in London looked at data from 6,442 male office workers. After ruling out other possible causes of heart disease, such as high cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, high body mass index, smoking, drinking a lot of alcohol and lack of exercise, researchers found that employees who felt a strong sense of justice at work had a 30 percent lower incidence of coronary heart disease than employees who felt a strong sense of unfairness.

Another study showed that when workers spend time with a boss they think is fair, their blood pressure is lower. And there have been many studies linking stress to increased risk of heart disease in general.

Coronary heart disease is the leading cause of death in the Western world. Considering that so many of us spend a great deal of our time at work, it seems clear that reducing stress as you earn your living could be one way to decrease your risk of heart disease.

What can you do about stress at work?
A little bit of pressure from time to time is normal at work. Projects are due, deadlines loom and things can get crazy. It’s the chronic, long-term, always-there stress, which leads to feelings of low self-worth, deprivation and oppression, that’s more likely to contribute to heart problems, research is beginning to indicate.

It’s easy to say, “If your boss isn’t treating you fairly, find another job.” But you need your job, obviously, and it’s not always possible to quit, at least not without a long search for another position. And there can be good reasons to stay. If you’ve been at a company or organization for a long time you may not want to give up many of the benefits you’ve acquired through the years.

If quitting doesn’t seem like a good option for you, it’s still important to do what you can to make changes in your situation. Consider the following possibilities:

  • Talking with your supervisor, if you haven’t already. Maybe you’ve tried this, and it hasn’t helped. But if you haven’t, try it. See whether you can schedule a time to talk, and express your feelings in an honest way. Use statements that begin with “I,” as in, “I’d like to feel like I have some input when we make decisions.” Or, “I’d like it if you would consider what I have to say about the work we do.” It could be that your boss isn’t aware of how his or her management style is affecting you.
  • Talking with your human resources department. If talking with your boss doesn’t seem to be an option, or if you’ve tried it and it hasn’t worked, it’s probably time to fill your human resource (HR) department in on what’s going on. Your HR representative needs to know when the work environment is too stressful than is reasonable. Talking with them could be your first step to initiating a change.
  • Explore stress relief modalities. Regular exercise is extremely helpful. Yoga, Pilates, qigong and t’ai chi also help you focus on ways to relax your mind and body.
  • If all else fails…explore other job opportunities. Even though it’s hard to think about changing jobs, sometimes that’s exactly what you need. Often, the idea of changing is often harder than the change itself. It can’t hurt to see what else is out there for you, and it might be the best thing you can do for your health.

Your spouse can help
Don’t forget that the people closest to you can be a great source of comfort and strength. Recent research has shown that a supportive spouse can help protect you against high blood pressure that could be caused by strain at work.

  • Do you talk about your daily activities with your spouse?
  • Does your spouse provide a sympathetic ear and listen well when you talk about things about your day that are bothering you?
  • Do you and your spouse spend time together?

Good, caring communication in your relationship helps you decompress at the end of your day.

No matter what though, if you’re feeling a lot of stress from your job, it’s extremely important to see your doctor. Find out whether your blood pressure and blood fats are in the healthy range. Even if things at work feel out of control, you can take steps to take control of your health.

Archives of Internal Medicine, 24 October 2005; Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario.
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