Workplace Stress and Your Health
Experts explain the dangers of work-related stress and provide solutions.
How Stress Affects Your Health
Why does stress make you sick?
"When your brain perceives stress, you get reactions from the
stress-reactive area, and an elevation of stress hormones -- cortisol and
norepinephrine -- increase in concentration in the blood," Rabin tells
What happens next? "We believe that each person has different organ
vulnerabilities. One person will respond with panic attacks, another with headaches," says
John Garrison, PhD, director of the stress management program at Lahey Clinic
in Burlington, Mass.
While the impact of workplace stress varies from one person to the next,
mounting evidence shows that stress can cause some very specific adverse health
For instance, stress may make it harder to control diabetesby
raising blood glucose levels. This is related to the "fight or flight"
response, which prompts your body to raise blood sugar levels to help boost
energy in response to the stress.
Stress and Cholesterol Levels
Stress may even raise cholesterol levels, immediately and long term. British
researchers evaluating the stress reactions of 199 healthy adult men and women
found that participants who reacted more strongly to emotional situations also
demonstrated immediate and significant increases in cholesterol levels. Three
years later, these same study participants who initially responded more
dramatically to stressful situations experienced a more significant elevation
in cholesterol levels than other study participants. How significant? Those who
had initial stress responses in the top third of the group were, three years
later, more likely to have readings above the recommended levels for
cholesterol than participants whose initial stress responses fell in the bottom
So, what's the stress-cholesterol connection? While researchers aren't
certain, one theory is that stress might increase the body's inflammatory
processes, in turn increasing lipid production.
Stress-induced health reactions aren't strictly physiological.
Stress also influences our behavior, which can in turn affect our health.
"Chronic stress gets in the way of putting information that we know about
health behaviors into action. When you're under stress, M&Ms are for
lunch," says Joe Piscatella, president of Institute for Fitness and Health
and author of The Road to a Healthy Heart Runs Through the
You can't simply will away the people with whom you find difficult to work.
But it may help to learn a different way of interacting with them.
How to Respond to Stressful Situations
Feeling like you haven't been heard? "When in doubt, check it out,"
Kauffman suggests. "Say directly to the person, 'I'm not sure you
understood me.' It could be that the person is under too much stress, and didn't have time to absorb [your
suggestion or request]."
Trying to cope with a boss you feel is making unreasonable requests?
"Describe the situation objectively," Kauffman says. For example,
tell your boss how many projects you have on your plate. She may not realize