Find a job you like and you add five days to every week.
– H. Jackson Brown
The many hours we spend per week at a workplace, job or career can significantly contribute to our health status. One’s job can be either empowering and life-giving or demoralizing and stressful. Those who regularly have to endure the latter type of environment often suffer emotional and physical harm as a result. Even relatively good working situations can cause periods of acute stress when deadlines are imminent.
Multiple studies have been conducted over the years on the relationship between jobs and stress. There is a certain amount of “good” stress that comes with every job. This type of stress is called eustress (the same prefix as euphoria). Eustress is “positive” stress that motivates us and provides the incentive we often need to get things done. The excitement of riding a roller coaster or the challenge of completing a fun puzzle or competition are examples of eustress. This type of stress is healthy and is what helps us get out of the bed in the morning.
On the other hand, jobs can also cause “bad” stress, or distress. This state occurs when the challenges faced from day-to-day are no longer fun; one feels buried under the weight of expectations and tension from which there seems to be no relief. This type of job stress can present itself physically in several ways. High blood pressure and rapid breathing are two common stress responses. Studies have also shown that hostile work environments and working long hours have the potential to accelerate the development of heart disease. Age can be a factor in the equation as well. A study done at the University of Utah showed that, as stressed workers aged, their blood pressure rose above average levels. Those who experience high levels of job stress succumb more often to the common cold and have to call in sick.
Job stress can also manifest in other ways. Some people find themselves constantly thinking and worrying about projects or conflicts with coworkers. Others are drained of energy and have little left over for regular exercise or healthy life habits. Often job stress leads to the development of negative coping mechanisms such as increased drinking or smoking. Overeating or a loss of appetite can also result from work-related stress. Sadly, a link has been made between high job stress and lower levels of mental health.
It seems that those in blue collar or middle-class job positions suffer from a particular type of job stress. A lack of control over one’s work environment can lead to depression, anxiety and eventually emotional exhaustion (i.e. burnout). One study noted that employees with high psychological and physical job demands and little job control reported various psychosomatic and physical health complaints as well as very low job satisfaction. Prolonged or chronic stress can take its toll on the body. The development of heart disease and type II diabetes have both been linked to chronic stress.
Workplace stress can be a result of various factors. Poor management, excessively high expectations, unclear goals and guidelines, job insecurity, workplace conflict and a multitude of other things may combine to create a difficult working environment. The team at Nature Medicine recognizes that it may not always be possible to eliminate these stressors from one’s life. “When people go to work, they should not have to leave their hearts at home”. We desire to see our patients investing their time and energy in areas from which they receive satisfaction.
- Betty Bender quotation