Are you working
toward an increased
risk of heart disease?
“Job strain” and
stress can be more
It is a known fact that some careers and jobs are more hazardous than others. For service-oriented professions like firefighters, police officers, or military/soldiers where intensity levels can fluctuate from 0 to 100 miles per hour in a matter of seconds, there is a known risk of the impact of developing irregular heart rhythms or poor blood flow. Researchers have deeply studied the biological pathway between high-strain jobs and the development of atrial fibrillation, connecting mental stress as the cause of elevated blood pressure, inflammation and hypertension, and abnormal electrical activity in the left atrial of the heart. Science has also shown the role in the release of adrenaline and other hormones inside the body that can trigger arrhythmia, causing generalized inflammation that is associated with atherosclerosis; the process that leads to heart disease and blockages in the arteries.
But what about those with desk jobs? What is their risk?
Miranda VonFricken is a Life & Career Coach based in the Albany area, she is also a member of the Forbes Coaching Council. She joined us for a recent episode of HeartTalk presented by Capital Cardiology Associates to discuss careers, COVID, and heart health. The phrase “work/life balance” is trendy among job seekers, as it depicts a situation where there are clear work and home-life boundaries. “People are talking more about mental and heart health now more than ever. A lot of people in the community are engaged, and so are employers. The stress that comes with working full-time, at-home, with children requires more flexibility from employers,” VonFricken added. This applies to workers searching for new opportunities due to COVID economic downsizing or those looking to make a career change to meet employment demands.
Stress is the number one contributor to heart health problems in the workplace. Sadly, something as simple as a change in shift work (from day to night) or work hours, over time, can affect your heart rhythm. The Women’s Health Study (WHS) is one of the largest and longest-running observational studies of women’s health in the United States. The study included almost 40,000 female health professionals aged 45 years old and older, who were followed for an average of 10 years. Some of the results showed that our body doesn’t distinguish stress as well as our mind does. For example, an emergency triggers life-saving chemicals and hormones to be released that increases our body’s functioning abilities. We have a boost in speed, strength, or stamina in “fight or flight” situations. That reaction is similar when the stress comes from deadlines, interactions with co-workers, or pressure moments at work. What’s worse, an email or text on vacation can trigger that same stress. The amount of stress we carry in our work-life may vary, but everyone can recall or relate to instances where simply worrying about potential work problems consumed our thoughts. In those stressful moments, the body is still releasing the chemicals and hormones needed to confront or escape those perceived threats.
Harvard researchers involved in the WHS trial were unable to find how job strain gives rise to heart health issues. Scientists examined how stress physically affects the body, triggering inflammation in coronary arteries leading to blood clots that can cause a heart attack or stroke. Mental health experts point to stress as a contributor to bad lifestyle choices. People who are stressed out tend to find it harder to consistently exercise, eat a healthy diet, get regular sleep, and avoid excess drinking or tobacco use. One surprise finding was workers who perceive that they are subjected to high demands but have little control are at increased risk for cardiovascular disease.
Find a job you love
There is an old saying that some will point to on workplace stress, “find a job you love, and you will never work another day in life.” While most Americans enjoy their job, the fact remains that most people spend about 25% of their adult lives working. We are also putting in more hours on the job than any other industrialized nation. According to an International Labor Organization study, Americans put in the equivalent of an extra 40-hour workweek in 2000 compared to ten years previously. We are also working harder. In a 2001 survey, nearly 40% of workers described their office environment as “most like a real-life survivor program.”
The American Heart Association created Workplace Health Solutions to help employers and employees assess and monitor their heart health. The assessment is grounded in the evidence-informed science of the American Heart Association’s Life’s Simple 7®, the seven most important predictors of heart health. What’s unique about this resource is that the program is an easy 4-minute assessment that allows employees to assess their heart health and take small, simple steps that can result in real improvements.
VonFricken also offered advice on committing to personal and professional goals to eliminate stress from daily life. She recommends creating a vision board, a visual tool that can be words, images, photos, or a combination of all three. These boards are typically poster-sized. “The principle is that as you walk by it, you exchange energy with it. I literally have a conversation with my vision board every day. These are things that I want; my goals are focused on the person who I want to be. ‘I am confident. I am strong. I am absolutely determined to achieve my goals.’ These are my affirmations,” VonFricken explained. And, they are not just for adults looking for accountability or inspiration to reach personal or professional goals. “My (eight-year-old) daughter has one with cookies on it! She wants cookies, wants to learn how to ride a bike and get a laptop. Just seeing these pictures every day gives you the power to make them happen.”
Written by Michael Arce, Host of HeartTalk presented by Capital Cardiology Associates
Photos by Brett Sayles and Bich Tran from Pexels