Can a Stressful Job Cause Heart Disease?

Job Stress Can Cause Significant and Life-Threatening Health Issues

Woman at desk, staring at computer screen
Compassionate Eye Foundation/Jamie Grill/Digital Vision

Job stress is widely experienced, and so pervasive that it’s been found to affect people from all industries, levels and income levels. And because so much of our lives are spent at work, job stress can create issues in other areas of life as well. Anxiety at work can eventually cause you to experience burnout or depression. Without significant changes, prolonged stress can even cause serious physical problems like heart disease.


Job Stress and Chronic Stress

There are several types of stress that people experience, and they each affect people differently. There’s eustress, the kind of feeling you get on a rollercoaster or going down a ski slope; it's exciting and invigorating. There is also acute stress, which comes and goes quickly. These types of stress aren’t especially harmful in manageable doses, though too much of either can lead to a greater risk of experiencing chronic stress. Chronic stress comes from situations where your stress response is triggered again and again without giving you a chance to relax and recuperate. This type of stress often comes from conflicted relationships, over-packed schedules and demanding jobs. 

Effects of Job Stress

When job stress turns chronic, it can really threaten our physical and emotional health:

  • One study that assessed over 11,000 people found that employees reporting high psychological and physical job demands and low job control had elevated risks of emotional exhaustion,  psychosomatic and physical health complaints of all kinds and job dissatisfaction.
  • According to a study by the British Medical Journal, chronic stress has been linked to the development of heart disease and type 2 diabetes, as well as other conditions. This is because they found a link between chronic job stress and metabolic syndrome, which is a group of factors that increase the risk of diseases like high blood pressure, insulin resistance and obesity. They found that greater levels of job stress increased people’s chances of developing metabolic syndrome.
  • Workers who have higher levels of job stress experience a greater incidence of the common cold, and call in sick more often.
  • There has also been a documented link between high job stress and increased risk of mental health issues, such as depression or anxiety disorders. 

Sources of Job Stress

Certain job stress sources can contribute to chronic job stress and burnout:

  • Job strain, less independence, low social support, high psychological demands, effort-reward imbalance and high job insecurity predicted common mental disorders in a review of several different job stress studies.
  • These job stress factors seemed to affect men and women of every age equally. 

Managing Job Stress

Because job stress is a leading cause of chronic stress, managing factors we experience on the job can cut out significant levels of anxiety and lead to greater wellness and happiness. It’s important to take steps to take care of oneself and one’s body. The following strategies can help you stay healthy and potentially reverse many of the negative effects of stress in a surprisingly short amount of time:

Making changes may feel challenging at first. This article may help you in making your chosen changes, which will soon become ingrained, leaving you feeling less stressed and with increased physical and psychological health for years to come. 

Chandola, T., Brunner, E., Marmot, M. Chronic stress at work and the metabolic syndrome: prospective study. British Medical Journal. January 20, 2006.
Stansfeld S, Candy B. Psychosocial work environment and mental health--a meta-analytic review. Scandanavian Journal of Work, Environment and Health, December Jonge J, Bosma H, Peter R, Siegrist J. Job strain, effort-reward imbalance and employee well-being: a large-scale cross-sectional study. Social Science and Medicine, May 2000.
Nakata A, Takahashi M, Irie M, Ray T, Swanson NG. Job Satisfaction, Common Cold, and Sickness Absence among White-collar Employees: A Cross-sectional Survey. Industrial Health, September 2010.

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