Health Column: Tackle the to-do list: Manage job stress first

Job stress is something we all face as workers, and we all handle it differently. But, believe it or not, not all stress is bad, and learning how to deal with and manage stress is critical to us maximizing our job performance, staying safe on the job, and maintaining our physical and mental health.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), states that job stress, now more than ever, poses a threat to the health of workers - and the health of organizations. NIOSH defines job stress as the harmful physical and emotional responses that occur when the requirements of the job do not match the capabilities, resources or needs of the worker.

A Northwestern National Life study found that 40 percent of workers reported their jobs as extremely stressful. And, one quarter of employees view their jobs as the No. 1 stressor in their lives. Similarly, a Yale University study found 29 percent of workers feel “quite a bit or extremely stressed at work.” A Gallup Poll found that 80 percent of workers feel stress on the job, and nearly half reported that they needed help in learning how to manage it.

Some common causes of job stress include being over worked, impending layoffs, being in the wrong career or having conflict with the boss or co-workers. The most common symptoms and early warning signs of job stress include negativism, low morale, anxiety at work, fatigue, anger, depression, irritability, mood disturbances, sleep problems and even some physical symptoms like headaches or upset stomachs. If left untreated, job stress can lead to serious health problems such as cardiovascular diseases, musculoskeletal disorders and psychological disorders.

According to a study by the British Medical Journal, chronic stress has been linked to the development of heart disease and type 2 diabetes, as well as other conditions. They found that greater levels of job stress did indeed increase people’s chances of developing metabolic syndrome, which is a group of factors that, together, increase the risk of these diseases, including high blood pressure, insulin resistance, central obesity and several other health problems.

In addition, health care expenditures are nearly 50 percent greater for workers who reported high levels of stress in their lives. We can try to reduce stress in our lives by making lifestyle changes such as being more organized and managing time in an efficient way. Other important, and helpful, factors include getting enough sleep and maintaining a positive outlook at work. Diet and exercise help tremendously in reducing job stress levels, too, and a recent study also found that metabolic syndrome can be reversed in as little as three weeks with healthy diet changes.

It’s important that we take the initiative to take care of ourselves and our bodies. We have to be pro-active to cure our job stress. The good news is that there are several things we can do to stay healthy. We can reverse many of the negative effects of stress in a surprisingly short amount of time - and with a few, relatively minor lifestyle changes.

Dr. Mohammad J. Shafi is a nephrologist with Nephrology Consultants, and he is on the active medical staff at Blount Memorial Hospital.

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