Long hours, bad bosses, unsupportive co-workers and overflowing inboxes. If these things get your heart racing just to think about, imagine what it does to your heart when you experience it every day at work.
Kay Fittes is the founder of Strategies for Womens Growth, a company that specializes in helping women overcome obstacles to their career success. Fittes says a big obstacle for women is their work-related stress. She recently discovered the following statistics:
- 83 percent of all illnesses are stress-related
- 60 percent of women more likely to suffer job stress than men
- The Families and Work Institute reports 26 percent of workers report problems with stress and burnout
"I cannot think of one client of ours that doesn't mention their job as a main stressor," says Dr. Gina Dalessandro, a chiropractor at Gateway Chiropractic Center in Montgomery. "Maybe they're not doing what they want to for a living, or maybe they are and it's just not the right environment. Regardless, work-related stress can have a very negative effect on your health, your heart in particular."
Fittes says these 10 questions will help decipher whether or not your job and work-related stress is affecting your health:
- Do you dwell on issues about work on personal time?
- Do you fanaticize about the perfect job somewhere else?
- Do you take work home with you on a daily basis, but not do it?
- Do you have a me versus them mentality?
- Have you had significant health issues while in this job? Headaches, stomach problems, hives, insomnia?
- Have your personal relationships been affected by your attitude regarding work?
- Do you have a sudden burst of energy when you leave the workplace?
- Are you unable to let go of minor grievances at work?
- Are you unable to develop a plan for making changes in your job situation?
- Do you feel a sense of hopelessness and helplessness in the situation?
If you answer "yes," to all or the majority of questions above, Fittes says your job is most likely affecting your health and you need to make a change.
Dalessandro says emotional issues eventually result in physical issues, and the body gives several signs to let you know that the emotional has escalated into physical. Chief among these signs are depression, low moods, tension in shoulders and headaches.
Dr. Brent Owens, also a chiropractor at Gateway Chiropractic Center, says these physical symptoms actually relate back to our primal makeup. "Your body is designed to have a fight-or-flight stress response. A stressful situation occurs, such as being chased by a lion, and your body reacts to increase your ability to escape. Your heart races with the boost of the adrenaline in your system, your cholesterol goes up to help blood clotting and your brain essentially shuts down in terms of memory and other normal functions so that it can concentrate on escaping," he explains. "That's great when you're momentarily escaping from a lion, but not great when it's an everyday, all day stressful environment at work."
This fight-or-flight stress response can have a detrimental effect on your body over time with its resulting increase in cholesterol, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, lack of concentration, memory loss, anxiety and sleep-related issues. But, Dalessandro says there are easy ways to maintain control of that stress, and thus your unhealthy stress response:
- Drink Water. Not only is water good for keeping your body hydrated and flushing toxins out of your body, it also makes you step away from your desk several times throughout the day to use the restroom. "Some times, just taking yourself away from your desk for a few moments is all you need to keep your stress level from escalating," she says.
- Keep It Moving. "Your nervous system is driven by movement; it stimulates the brain," says Dalessandro. "Plus, your joints need movement to be healthy." Watch the Webcast below to see Dalessandro demonstrate easy stretches to do in your office throughout the day to keep both your body and mind healthy.
- Don't Eat Fast Food. You might promise yourself a Big Mac if you can make it through another day with Mr. Stinksatbeingaboss, or a quick drive-thru meal is all you can fit into your hectic schedule, but Owens says fast food actually stresses your body out even more. "The toxins in fast food further weaken your already weak body," he says. Healthier, unprocessed, whole food options will help to build your body's defenses against stress, so opt for those next time.
- Take Three Deep Breaths. Dalessandro attributes this tip to a book she recently read called Three Deep Breaths: Finding Power and Purpose in a Stressed-Out World by Thomas F. Crum . In the book, Crum suggests having landmarks for taking your breaths, such as a stoplight. "Every time he'd come to a stoplight, he'd take three deep breaths, which would help calm him down," Dalessandro says. "You could do that at work, such as right before you open an e-mail from a certain someone that always stresses you out."
Another thing that will help you decrease stress at work is a corporate wellness program. Dalessandro says Gateway Chiropractic Center provides these for both large and small companies. "We give wellness lunch 'n' learns for employees, provide ergonomic tips and work with individual employees to enhance their individual spaces." She says it's the responsibility of both the employee and employer to keep a workforce happy and healthy.
Click on the play button below to view an exclusive Webcast with Dalessandro as she demonstrates a few helpful ways to thwart stress and cardiovascular disease.