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Chronic Job Stress is a Risk Factor for Heart Disease

Stress and Metabolic Syndrome


Updated June 05, 2014

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

Widespread Job Stress

Job stress is widely experienced, and so pervasive that it’s been found to affect people from all industries, ranks and socio-economic status levels. And because so much of our lives are spent at work, job stress can create stress in other areas of life as well. For example, when people are stressed at work, they may have less patience when not at work, and relationships may suffer; they may have less energy when not at work, and let exercise go by the wayside; they may feel so much stress at work that they experience burnout or depression. And, because of a close link between job stress and chronic stress, job stress can take a significant toll on overall health and wellness, too.

Job Stress and Chronic Stress

There are several types of stress that people experience, and they each affect people differently. There’s eustress, which is considered ‘good stress’ for a reason—it keeps us feeling vital, alive, and excited about living. 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, which is the damaging type of stress that we often hear about when we hear about the harmful effects of stress. Chronic stress comes from situations where our stress response is triggered again and again, and when our bodies don’t return to their pre-stressed state. This type of stress often comes from conflicted relationships, over-packed schedules, and, yes, stressful jobs.

Effects of Job Stress

When job stress turns chronic, it can really threaten our physical and emotional health. Consider the following job stress findings:
  • 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 (i.e. burnout), 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, together, increase the risk of these diseases, including high blood pressure, insulin resistance, central obesity (excessive abdominal fat, which has been linked to increased cortisol in the bloodstream, as well as several other health problems). They found that greater levels of job stress increased people’s chances of developing metabolic syndrome: the higher the stress level, the greater the chance 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 lower levels of mental health. (Read more on this below.)

Sources of Job Stress

Certain job stress sources can contribute to chronic job stress and burnout. Especially challenging sources of job stress include:
  • Job strain, low decision latitude (fewer chances to make choices), low social support, high psychological demands, effort-reward imbalance (low rewards for high efforts), and high job insecurity predicted common mental disorders in a review of several different job stress studies, published in the Scandanavian Journal of Work, Environment and Health.
  • Social factors played a role as well. The British Medical Journal article mentioned above also found that lucky subjects with higher status jobs were less likely to have job stress-related metabolic syndrome, and those with lower status jobs were at a higher risk.
  • These job stress factors seemed to affect men and women, young and old, pretty equally.

Managing Job Stress

Because job stress is a leading cause of chronic stress, managing the stressors we experience on the job (and off!) can cut out significant levels of stress 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. You can also subscribe to my free weekly newsletter for ongoing research, resources, and tips.

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 2006.de 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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