Is Your Job Killing You?
New research finds that stress at work is a huge contributor to the risk of cardiovascular disease and heart attack for women
By Leah Zerbe, Rodale.com
Job stress and worrying about job security can both take a toll on a woman’s body, although the two issues affect female health differently, according to research presented last month at the American Heart Association’s Annual Meeting in Chicago. But whether chronic work-related stress is eating at your nerves or ballooning your waistline, there are natural solutions with no toxic side effects that you can use to relax the pressure.
The details: In a recent study looking at work stress and women, researchers from Harvard and Brigham and Women’s Hospital studied more than 17,000 otherwise healthy women (generally in their 50s) enrolled in the Women’s Health Study for 10 years. Women who reported work-related strain, such as having little or no authority over decisions or being unable to contribute creativity and skills to the job, were up to 88 percent more likely to experience a heart attack than women who reported no work strain. Overall, working women reporting high job strain faced a 40 percent higher rate of cardiovascular disease, too.
Worrying about losing a job did not appear to increase heart attack risk, but it was linked to obesity, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol, all of which can eventually lead to cardiovascular disease.
What it means: Whether it’s a nightmarish cubicle neighbor, an unrelenting workload, or an ornery boss that has your stress meter ready to pop at any second, you can get a grip: It’s all about mind over matter. An August study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that students taking part in Integrative Body-Mind Training (IBMT) enjoyed changes in white brain matter (within 11 hours of practice) that seemed connected to better regulation of emotions and behavior.
Although now very common the U.S. yet, IBMT involves the practice of maintaining a state of restful alertness to tap into body-mind awareness while a trained coach guides your breathing and mental imagery. It’s somewhat similar to more widely available mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), which involves focusing on your present-moment thoughts and feelings in a non-judgmental way. MBSR has been shown to help people make clearer decisions in times of crisis, which could help when all health breaks loose at the office.
Next: How to lower your stress levels without turning to meds.
Here’s how to lower your stress levels without turning to meds:
1. Get your daily IBMT
Previous research out of the University of Oregon and three Chinese institutes has found that you could adopt stress-zapping properties of IBMT before the workweek’s out. After practicing it for 20 minutes a day for five days in a row, participants reported reduced stress and increased energy.
Prevention suggests this intro IBMT exercise: Sit quietly in a comfortable position. Close your eyes and think of your mind as a full cup; as thoughts come and go, keep returning to an image of the cup becoming empty. Repeat for five minutes.
Regardless of your meditation style, know this: Compared to non-meditators, women who practice meditation enjoy up to a 66 percent drop in stress hormone levels, which can dramatically improve heart health.
2. Pop a piece of gum
If you’re in need of an emergency quick freak-out fix, reach for a piece of gum. (Avoid artificial sweetened gum, though some are linked to health issues.) One study found that chewing gum boosts blood flow to the brain by up to 40 percent, helping you stay calm and in the present. This prevents you from ruminating over some aggravating office event.
3. Learn more about meditation
You don’t need to be a monk to enjoy the benefits of meditation. In fact, more and more Western integrative medicine practitioners are using it as a nontoxic health improver.