cardiovascular disease

Leave your work at work before it kills you

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laptop_mail_pc_1600_wht_2103Taking work home these days doesn’t necessarily mean a briefcase full of papers. It’s more likely to be a digital connection in our “always on” culture.

Once upon a time you could go home and work couldn’t interfere. Now you have your laptop, your phone, your tablet: you are connected. So you are always on whether you like it or not.

This is the first generation that has had to deal with the ramifications of that” said a director of AXA PPP Healthcare which supported the study. (Professor Cary Cooper spoke out about this in 2015 – as I posted here.)

As a result home has become more stressful than the office according to a recent survey. This has linked the problem of making yourself available 24/7 with cardiovascular disease.

It seems more than 50% of the 550 workers surveyed at a London-based French bank are more stressed at home than at work as they try to relax while still thinking about work.

This researchers used wrist monitors to measure changes in heart rate and the results led the researchers to believe that it’s the spikes that are dangerous. “Dealing with work while at home is pernicious to health and is directly linked to cardiovascular disease. That is now measurable and before it was not”.

Stress levels were found to be dangerously high until about 2030 when young children went to bed but some people’s levels remained high until after midnight. A smaller number of them, over 25, woke up between 0300 and 0400 and some of them even started working during that time.

The research was sponsored by an insurance company which now plans to monitor staff in high pressure jobs to see if their ability to perform has been damaged by an inability to switch off. This is likely in the next three years.

No wonder some countries like France have banned e-mails after working hours and Japan is urging workers to take time off to go shopping and reduce “death by overwork” or karate.

We’ve known for decades that working over 50 hours a week is bad for men and their hearts, and more recently it’s been found that senior women suffer stress too.

Why people still put ourselves through this when they know (or should know) the health risks is hard to fathom although there is some US research which found that some people found work less stressful than being at home.

So is it job insecurity? Addiction to work? Fear of missing out (FOMO) or being off-line (FOBO)? Whatever it’s surely time to rethink our work-life balance and stick two fingers up to the American idea of work-life merge.

Traumatised? Don’t sleep on it.

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CharismaEver had a traumatic event and been told by well-intentioned friends or colleagues that you’ll be OK after a good night’s sleep?

Well scientists at Oxford University now believe it’s the worst thing you can do.

Sleep is known to help consolidate memories so they are suggesting that sleep deprivation might be desirable  in reducing long-term psychological effects by impairing those memories.

In an experiment two groups were shown a disturbing film which included a suicide. One group went to bed as normal while the other was kept awake by staff trained to stop them falling asleep.

In the days that followed all the participants were asked  how often images from the film popped into their heads. The ones that slept were found to be more likely to experience flashbacks.

Professor Foster said “Maybe the routine treatment after such events should be gently to keep people awake – to sit with them and chat to them“. At present patients are often sedated after such events to help them sleep.

He also referred to experiences after battles in early cultures when it was more likely that the tradition was to sit round  campfire celebrating the event with alcohol.

Post traumatic stress (PTSD) can cause a number of problems for those suffering from it. Not just the flashbacks but problems concentrating, irritability and a heightened startle response.

A recent American study showed that women under 65 who had suffered traumatic experiences and had four or more symptoms of PTSD were 60% more likely to suffer a heart attack or stroke in later life.

Even those without any symptoms but who had suffered some trauma were 45% more likely to suffer cardiovascular disease compared to women who hadn’t been exposed to traumatic events.

Karestan Koenen of Columbia University said “Our results provide further evidence that PTSD increase the risk of chronic disease. The medical system needs to stop treating the mind and the body as if they were separate.Patients need access to integrated mental and physical care”

Stress can be a killer for women too

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Woman&officephoneWe are all aware of how stressful work can be at times. Contrary to popular belief not all of it is caused by the deliberate actions of others but usually because of the way we interpret events. Something that is stressful for one person may not be for someone else. Stress can be caused inadvertently by someone lacking social or management skills, and increasingly rudeness at work is being identified as a major cause.

Common sense tells us that rudeness can affect our mood but it also affects our performance, our problem solving ability, and our willingness to work in a collaborative way – and research shows that even witnessing rudeness can create these adverse outcomes and damage the working climate especially in teams that need to collaborate.

Bullying is another source of stress and it might be on the increase again, fuelled by insecurity since the recession. It also seems that whilst the majority of bullies are men women bullies can be more persistent. There also seem to be gender differences. I’ve found in my work and research that women are more likely to bully using personal attacks whereas men bully under the pretext of performance management.

Now new research has shown that women in high pressure jobs run twice the normal risk of developing heart problems as a direct result of work-related stress. Those reporting work pressure to an excessive degree are also at an increased risk of developing ischaemic heart disease.

The research, published in the Journal of Occupational Health and Environmental Medicine, was based on a 5-year study of over 12,000 Danish nurses aged between 45 and 64. Whilst the link between stress and heart disease is well-established this is one of the first studies on women.

Stressed workers often resort to unhealthy ways of coping such as smoking, eating comfort food, or drinking, which can lead to them becoming overweight and creates a vicious circle. In a study carried out by the author amongst NHS employees nurses had the highest sickness absence rates and also smoked the most. Managers on the other hand rarely took time off but drank more!

A research team at Ohio State University has been studying the effects of stress on health for the last 30 years (psycho-neuro-immunology) and have shown that chronic stress can lead to cardiovascular disease, cancer. stroke, osteoporosis and diabetes. The culprit is stress-induced chronic inflammation as a result of the immune system being in a constant state of high alert. This in turn wears you down and makes your body less able to fight infections and diseases, heal wounds, and develop antibodies. On a less dramatic level it explains why you can’t shake off that cold or persistent cold-sore when you are stressed.

And the latest research shows that children with difficult childhoods, eg through being abused, are especially susceptible to the physical effects of chronic stress and that their immune systems may learn a hyperactive response to stress which kicks in again when they are facing stressful events as an adult.

Some good news is that becoming adept at yoga does lower your stress response.

Updated 2 May 2011: Women with high job strain have a 40% increased risk of cardiovascular (CV) disease compared to those with low job strain, according to research presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2010. They defined job strain, a form of psychological stress, as having a demanding job, little or no decision-making authority or opportunities to use you creative or individual skills. Their findings were based on a sample of over 17,000 healthy women who participated in the Women’s Health Study. Primarily white health professionals with an average age of 57, they were tracked for 10 years whilst they provided information about job strain and job insecurity.

Job insecurity was associated with risk factors for CV disease such as high blood pressure, increased cholesterol, and excess body weight but not directly associated with heart attacks, strokes and CV death.

The higher CV risks for those who reported high job strain included heart attacks, ischemic strokes, coronary bypass surgery, balloon angioplasty, or death.

The findings that women in jobs with high demand and low control are at risk echo UK research on Civil Servants (The Whitehall studies). The first Whitehall Study compared mortality of people in the highly stratified environment of the British Civil Service over a 10 year period starting in 1967.

It showed that among British civil servants, mortality was 3 times higher among those in the lower grades when compared to the higher grades. The more senior one was in the employment hierarchy, the longer one might expect to live compared to people in lower employment grades. It also found higher mortality rates due to all causes but specifically coronary heart disease for men in the lower employment grade when compared to men in higher grades.

Twenty years later, the Whitehall II study, a longitudinal, prospective cohort study of 10,308 women and men, all of whom were employed in the London offices of the British Civil Service at the time they were recruited to the study in 1985, documented a similar gradient in morbidity in women as well as men. The studies revealed this social gradient for a range of different diseases: heart disease, some cancers, chronic lung disease, gastrointestinal disease, depression, suicide, sickness absence, back pain and general feelings of ill-health.

Companies might not use the S word so much these days , preferring to talk about resilience instead, but the pressure is still there and a source of illness and distress for many employees.