Can a stressful job be harmful to our health?
A certain amount of stress/pressure can “supposedly” be beneficial to us, by making us more productive. However, too much stress over a long period of time can have negative impacts on our health. A recent study from
sought to examine what these
negative effects were and to what extent could stress increase the risk of
developing cardiovascular diseases and coronary heart problems. Spain
The research was carried out by the insurance company Ibermutuamur, and two universities in
and the findings were published in the peer reviewed Scandinavian
Journal of Public Health. Spain
The purpose of the study was to determine whether a correlation exists between stress (from work) and abnormal levels of fat (lipids) in the blood. Worryingly, high levels of bad cholesterol known as LDL cholesterol – caused by fat in the blood - can block arteries which in turn may lead to coronary heart disease and other cardiovascular diseases.
Just over 90,000 people took part in the study which was conducted through questionnaires. Participants were asked questions relating to how they felt they coped in their job: “During the last year, have you frequently felt that you cannot cope with your usual job?". Participants who answered "yes" were considered to have job stress.
The questionnaire also included eleven questions relating to anxiety and depression symptoms, such as "Have you felt keyed up, on edge?" and "Have you had difficulty relaxing?” The researchers took fasting blood samples from participants measuring levels of total cholesterol, and then examined whether abnormal lipid levels were linked to job stress. The study did take into account age, sex, smoking, obesity, alcohol consumption and also type of job (blue or white collar occupation).
Around 8,000 (9%) of participants are reported to have job stress; in addition these individuals also reported higher levels of anxiety and depression symptoms, and were found to have a 10% increase in abnormal lipid levels and higher levels of LDL cholesterol, than those who did not consider their job stressful.
Although these findings have been regarded as generally strong in understanding the relationship between stress and bad cholesterol, what the study did not take into account is that, individuals who suffer from stress or poor mental health, may indulge in high risk behaviour as a coping mechanism. This could increase their risk of developing higher levels of “bad” cholesterol as they may be more accustomed to unhealthier diets and/or consume higher levels of alcohol. Therefore, rather than the stress itself, these other “risky behaviours” may play a fundamental role in causing peoples “bad” cholesterol to rise.
Nonetheless, what this research highlights is that stress (too much of it) and poor mental health is detrimental for our wellbeing and for society as a whole. Whether it causes our cholesterol to rise or whether it causes us to indulge in health risk behaviour – the message remains clear that improving ones mental health should be paramount in order to tackle many of the other health related problems that exist in today’s society.
What can you do?
The RSPH believe that we all have a responsibility to ourselves and to others, to help prevent, protect and promote good mental health practices. As such a one day programme on Mental Health and Wellbeing has been developed, to provide people with practical skills and knowledge to understand the measures they can take to improve not only their own mental health, but also help the wider community. Click here to download the report on Mental Health in the New Public Health System and click here to find out more about our programme.