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Job Stress May Be Killing You

By Maia WeinstockDecember 3, 2003 6:00 AM


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Nadia Wager, a psychologist at Buckinghamshire Chilterns University College in England, finds that working for a boss you hate is not just hard on the psyche—it could also lead to serious health problems. She and her colleagues collected blood-pressure readings from 28 health-care employees every half hour for 12 hours over several days. Compared with a control group, employees who had a supervisor they considered unfair or unreasonable experienced significantly elevated blood pressure whenever they had to interact with the boss. “Supervisors who are untrusting, disrespectful, and who practice favoritism have the most potential to raise employees’ blood pressure,” Wager says. Although short-term blood pressure spikes are not usually cause for concern, “sustained elevations in blood pressure throughout the working day are likely to degrade the cardiovascular system.” The blood pressure jumps recorded in the study imply a 16 percent increased risk of coronary heart disease and 38 percent increased risk of stroke.

Holding in the anger you feel toward an unfavorable boss or co-worker may lead to another problem: headaches. A recent study of 422 adults by Robert Nicholson and his colleagues at the St. Louis University School of Medicine found that suppressed psychological stress may be a major trigger for those who are prone to headaches. Nicholson suggests expressing one’s angry workplace feelings (in a nonviolent way, of course) to alleviate stress—a strategy that could also lead to lower blood pressure. But if you sense that speaking out will only make the situation worse, try going for a walk or counting to 10 before you respond.

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