Stroke is the 5th leading cause of death in the United States and the No. 1 cause of disability. Stroke is closely tied to cardiovascular disease, but a new study strongly suggests that job-related stress can also contribute.
“Having a lot of job stress has been linked to heart disease, but studies on job stress and stroke have shown inconsistent results,” says study author Dingli Xu, MD, of Southern Medical University in Guangzhou, China. “It’s possible that high-stress jobs lead to more unhealthy behaviors, such as poor eating habits, smoking, and a lack of exercise.”
Xu and his colleagues analyzed data on 6 studies on job strain and stroke risk. The studies encompassed more than 138,000 participants who were followed for at least 3 years. Researchers categorized participants into 4 groups based on their personal control of their job, its psychological demands, and how hard they were working. However, manual labor and actual hours worked were not part of the analysis.
The study determined that people working high-stress jobs were 22 percent more likely to have a stroke than people in low-stress jobs, and for women, that risk rises to 33 percent. High-stress jobs, in this case, meant they had little control but a lot of demands. These include service professionals such as nursing aides or waitresses. Low-stress jobs, like architects and natural scientists, had the reverse—a lot of control and little demand. For the most common type of stroke, ischemic stroke, the risk for high-stress workers is 58 percent higher than for low-stress workers. Professionals working in passive jobs (low demand and low control) or active jobs (high demand and high control) did not have any additional stroke risk.
The study suggests employers can do more to curb stress by increasing job control, decentralization of decision making, and flexibility in job structure, such as by permitting telecommuting, Jennifer J. Majersik, MD, of the University of Utah and a member of the American Academy of Neurology, wrote in an accompanying editorial. “If effective, such workplace changes could have a major public health impact,” she said. The study and editorial were published in the journal Neurology.
Tips for Curbing Job-Related Stress
- If you are so stressed that you feel suicidal, rely on drugs or alcohol to diffuse stress, or feel overwhelmed, see a mental healthcare provider for help.
- Don’t cut out your friends and family. Their support can help you work through stress.
- Pay attention to your body. Signs like insomnia, irritability, depressed mood, and low energy mean your body is feeling the stress, too.
- Prioritize tasks realistically so the most important or time-sensitive projects are completed first. Don’t be afraid to say no if you won’t be able to complete a task.
- At day’s end, focus on your successes and accomplishments instead of what’s still on your to-do list.
- Set aside time for an exercise routine to help you de-stress. Even a half hour of leisurely walking a day is shown to elevate your mood and help you relax. Meditation, yoga, or Tai Chi are noted for their ability to lower stress, too.