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Can your job kill you?

The five biggest stresses at work


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Deadlines, obnoxious co-workers, evil bosses. These are all challenges that many people have to face everyday at work.

OK, these factors can be downright annoying and unpleasant, but can they really be harmful to you?

Yes, says Lyssa Menard, Ph.D., clinical health psychologist at the Wellness Institute at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and Assistant Professor at Northwestern University in Chicago. "The harmful effects of stress are well-documented."

In fact, high stress levels have been linked to many serious medical conditions, such as heart disease and high blood pressure, eczema, migraines, sleep problems, excessive anger and fatigue.

"Stress creates a major strain on your body, especially your heart," Menard warned.

Our bodies are equipped with a built-in alarm system. When things get dangerous or stressful, our bodies react with the "fight or flight" response, releasing hormones that increase your heart rate and blood pressure to give you that extra burst of energy to flee from danger.

It's a great mechanism to help you run from a raging wild beast, but not very helpful in the office setting. If you don't burn off those hormones, they stay in your body, causing an uneven heart rate and possibly leading to chronic high blood pressure.

It's when stress becomes recurring and habitual that there is real damage, Menard said.

Biggest causes of stress at work

1. Job security: This is the No. 1 cause of stress among the patients Menard sees.

"People are fearful of losing their jobs, so they work more and then get stressed and burn themselves out," she said.

Also, many bosses may be working employees harder to meet demands for higher cost efficiency and productivity.

2. Poor diet: Caffeine and nicotine often are used to get people through stressful situations.

"Indulging in these or other substances, such as drugs and alcohol, only intensifies the stress cycle," Menard warned. "The more caffeine you drink, the less you sleep. The less you sleep, the more tired and tense you feel." And so on...

3. Lack of sleep: This in and of itself can be a stressor. Usually the more tired you are, the less patience you have, and you are more apt to fly off the handle. So it's important to get enough sleep and burn off those excess stress hormones with some exercise or meditation.

4. Success: Sometimes being successful actually can lead to anxiety. Dr. Menard notes that people in high-pay, high-stress professions, such as financial traders, feel extreme pressures to make money for their companies and their clients. They know if they don't bring in the money, they will lose their accounts and perhaps their jobs.

However, even if they are successful, dealing with great amounts of money and just the art of the deal can become addictive, keeping them in a perpetual state of tension.

5. Feeling no control: Many of Dr. Menard's patients report feeling they have no power over their job responsibilities and that someone else is always pulling the strings. This can be a great source of worry, especially if they have a never-ending workload to complete.

Bottom line: Periodically examine your work life for these triggers. If you find an elevation in one or more, talk to your doctor about ways to bring it under control and protect your physical and mental health.

© Copyright 2005. All rights reserved. The information contained in this article may not be published, broadcast or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority
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