We talk a lot about wellness and prevention. Exercise and healthy eating and minimal drinking and health screenings and so on: These are all good—and important—things for us to do to prevent health woes.
But what about the things we can’t control that are wreaking havoc in our lives and on our bodies?
As if I wasn’t stressed enough, a new study has me stressed out even more…about stress.
Turns out work really is a killer—literally.
A review of 13 studies by a group of European researchers links high work stress with an increase in heart attack risk. People with highly demanding jobs and little freedom to make decisions are 23 percent more likely to have a heart attack compared with their less stressed out colleagues.
Of course, the study focused on European workers, but with a more-than-rough job market and a 8.1 percent unemployment rate, I think it’s safe to say we Americans are pretty stressed about our work life, too.
For those of us with jobs, work is just a constant source of strife. I’ve said this before, but work stress is worse than ever. Employees are so on edge about keeping their jobs in a squeezed economy and job market that they’re working longer and harder than ever.
And it’s only going to get worse.
“Exposures such as job insecurity and factors related to social capital and emotions, are likely to be of major importance in the future. The present economic crisis will almost certainly increase this importance,” writes Bo Netterstrøm from Bispebjerg Hospital in Copehagen, Denmark.
So we can talk all we want about wellness programs—smoking cessation, healthy diets, cholesterol checks—but if stress management, or at the very least, acknowledgment from employers about the problems—aren’t on the wellness checklist, it’s kind of a moot point.
It’s no secret chronic and ongoing stress leads to both physical and mental problems. The question we have to ask ourselves is: Are long hours really worth cutting our lives short over?
We can only hope employers make changes some day—more vacation leave, stress management courses, telecommuting options, or maybe even an occasional “We appreciate you”—but clearly, things aren’t always under our control.
But in the meantime, it’s up to us. There are a host of recommendations, of course: Do something that relaxes you, take a walk, take deep breaths, listen to music, call a friend, take a long lunch, and take things one step at a time.
As for me—a person who's always had problems with anxiety and stress management—I’m acknowledging a long and stressful work week. My long to-do list is just going to have to wait another day until another thing is crossed off. I’m taking the advice of taking things one step at a time—right out the door.