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Heart Disease Health Center

'This Job Is Killing Me'

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"Working is not necessary bad for folks," says Schnall, who is editor of the recently published book The Workplace and Cardiovascular Disease.

But certain factors in the workplace, including stressful relations with co-workers and superiors, social isolation, and even physical factors such as heat, cold, noise, and excessive physical labor, may have a negative effect on health, Schnall says.

For example, he tells WebMD that people in jobs with high demand and low control are 3-5 times more likely to have high blood pressure, which is a major risk factor for heart disease.

"Jobs where they spend a great effort and don't get a great reward have a very negative impact on the physiologic system," says Schnall, who points out that the length of the average American work week is now 48 hours.

People in stressful jobs may be more likely to smoke, drink alcohol, engage in unhealthy eating habits, and lead sedentary lifestyles.

That's exactly what Gilda does. "I smoke on my way to work and coming home from work. I rarely have the time or energy to exercise and find that my treadmill is just another place to keep my belongings," she says.

"There are dozens of different strategies [to improve the work environment]. So the question is whether management is interested enough to make the necessary changes," says Schnall.

For example, bus drivers' stress levels may improve if there was adequate staffing of buses, more breaks, and bus lanes to help avoid traffic, he suggests.

But it's not just the management who has the power to make change. Employees can also help themselves.

"People who come in with job stress issues are suffering from anxiety, fatigue, anger, and other things that up blood pressure and cause health problems," says Jennifer Feeley, MFT, a therapist in San Francisco who specializes in job stress and other issues. "We look at what's going on in the workplace, [and] if the client is up for it, we do a search for a job that might be more suited to their temperament."

But if changing jobs is not an option because of money or other factors, "we look at ways that they can balance their personal life to get what they need," she tells WebMD. "Learning how to meditate or relax through breathing exercises are ways to take their minds off immediate trigger moments so that they have a chance or a choice to respond in a different way."

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