Stressed Out at Work? Don't Let It Increase Your Risk for Heart Attack

By Joy Hayes, registered dietitian and health coach


If you're like many people, a main source of stress may come from your job. Unfortunately, multiple studies have shown that job stress is associated with an increased risk of heart disease.


Job stress is often chronic or ongoing. It can lead to physical changes including the consistent release of "fight or flight" hormones, which increases our blood pressure and blood glucose and decreases the function of our immune system. This chronic stress can also make us feel overwhelmed and impact our ability to cope. Stress often influences the choices we make, such as how active we are, how much and what we eat, whether we smoke or not and how much alcohol we drink.


For many people, it's unrealistic to avoid stress at work. So what's a person to do? Good news! According to a recent study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, a healthful lifestyle can reduce heart attacks from job stress by 50 percent.


Even with a stressful job and busy life, there are changes we can make that will help us feel less stressed and more energized. These healthful behaviors can help us manage job stress better and feel less overwhelmed on and off the job. There are many healthful behaviors to consider including not smoking, drinking alcohol only in moderation if you drink, making healthful food choices and being physically active.


Here are some strategies to better manage stress:


Get active! Physical activity is especially helpful since it helps relieve the "fight or flight" response, clears your mind and takes the place of other unhealthful behaviors, such as eating and drinking too much. It can also be a distraction from smoking. Just 30 to 60 minutes a day of moderate physical activity, like walking or biking, can help you feel more relaxed and energized. Check out this "Fit in Five" segment with Holly Glaubitz.


Practice deep breathing or progressive relaxation: Taking 10 deep breaths while waiting for the next meeting can help relieve job stress and provides an immediate relaxation response. Check out this YouTube video for a progressive relaxation you can try.


Become aware of what is truly relaxing: Experiment with breaking large tasks into smaller ones, doing a few stretching exercises while waiting, getting out in nature or listening to music on a break. Taking breaks at work can actually increase employee productivity. 


We may not be able to change much about our job and its demands, but we can take steps to make healthful lifestyle changes that help us manage stress better. It's a win-win for both workers and employers.