Job stress is not uncommon. After all most jobs require at least 40 hours a week of your concentration, effort, and energy. Brief bursts of stress may help motivate some people but constant stress can wear you down. This type of stress not only effects your mood and outlook but may play a role in your physical well being. General stress has been shown to affect your sleep, weaken your immune system, and even contribute to long term health problems like heart disease.
US and European researchers reviewed previous studies to look for the risk of heart disease specifically associated with work stress. The study, published in Lancet, found that there was a connection between job stress and the development of heart disease.
The meta-analysis included 13 cohort studies. These studies had assessed level of job stress and development of heart disease in 197,473 adults, with an average age of 42 years. Job stress was determined by questionnaires that include questions about workload, conflicting demands, amount of time at work, and amount of control over work environment. Over seven and a half years 1.2% had a heart attack or death due to heart attack and 15% reported work stress.
Participants that reported job stress were more likely to have heart disease than those that did not report job stress. This risk existed even when age and gender were considered.
A meta-analysis can be a reliable form of research since it combines several smaller studies to create a large pool of data. The more participants, the more accurate the results may be. However, the meta-analysis is only as reliable as the individual studies that make it up. In this case, the meta-analysis was made with cohort studies which are a type of observational study and a less reliable form of research. This type of study can only show an association between to things and cannot show a cause and effect relationship. Also, there are many factors that can influence the outcomes that cannot be controlled for. In addition, 10 of the 13 of the cohort studies were unpublished, which means they were not scrutinized by fellow researchers. These factors may decrease the reliability of theses results.
Any stress has been shown to have a negative impact on your health. It can have a short term impact like poor sleep or susceptibility to colds. Or, it can lead long term problems like heart disease. Job stress can be difficult to change because you are not always in control of work options. In fact, a lack of control is a stressor in itself. What exactly causes stress can vary from person to person. If you are feeling stressed at work, look for opportunities for relaxation. Make the most of your breaks. Avoid work talk, stretch, move out of your work area, or sit with your eyes closed for some time. If you're feeling a high level of stress, walk it off. A short stroll can help you reset. Work with your manager or human resource department to help decrease stress in your environment. An active role in your environment can help you feel more in control.
American Psychological Association
Mental Health America
Kivimäki M, Nyberg ST, Batty GD, et al. Job strain as a risk factor for coronary heart disease: a collaborative meta-analysis of individual participant data. Lancet. 2012 Oct 27;380(9852):1491-7.
Last reviewed November 2012 by Brian P. Randall, MD