How managing work-related stress can boost overall health

Work-related stress arises from excessive or unmanageable pressure at the workplace and may lead to health issues. Your patients may benefit from these stress management interventions.

Work-related stress is detrimental to overall health; its impact and interventions have been widely studied in recent years.1,2 From a biological perspective, high levels of work stress is associated with elevated cortisol secretion, reduced immune function and increased inflammation, and changes in cardiovascular parameters such as blood pressure, blood lipid levels and heart rate variability.3 These changes could lead to a wide variety of symptoms and may contribute to the risk of cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, gastrointestinal disorders, psychological problems and other stress-related conditions.2-4

The risk of cardiovascular disease and other chronic conditions is linked to psychosocial stress at work – which can predispose individuals to health risk behaviours, such as cigarette smoking and alcohol consumption.5 In particular, a systematic review found evidence of work stress as a contributor to heavy alcohol consumption and/or dependence among men.5

Additionally, work stress is associated with a wide variety of cognitive problems, such as disorganised thought and decline in learning and memory.6,7 These cognitive issues may be due to prolonged release of glucocorticoids, which could lead to damage to the hippocampus due to inhibition of glucose storage and glucocorticoid neurotoxicity.7

Psychosocial stress at work is also correlated with suboptimal health status (SHS), a subclinical state characterised by fatigue and a constellation of other physical symptoms but with no diagnosable disease condition.2,8-10 Negative psychosocial stress factors at work, such as demands of work and job insecurity have been positively associated with SHS.2 In contrast, positive psychosocial factors, such as influence and development, interpersonal relations and leadership, and job satisfaction seem to be modestly protective against SHS.2

Management of work-related stress

Strategies for managing work-related stress include adopting a healthier lifestyle, reducing working hours and ensuring adequate sleep.11 In addition to promoting physical health, these self-care strategies can promote personal qualities or traits that can help one cope with stress (e.g., optimism, self-confidence, level-headedness, resilience and resourcefulness).

Work-recreation balance is also important in the management of work-related stress. Work-recreation balance is associated with healthy lifestyle practices (e.g., nutrition, physical activity, rest, self-realisation, health responsibility, interpersonal relationships and stress management) and seems to be protective against SHS.12

Healthcare professionals may recommend meditation and other mindfulness exercises to help patients cope with stress. These relaxation exercises have been shown to relieve stress, reduce ruminative thinking and anxiety, promote empathy and self-compassion, and improve memory.13,14

Yoga may also be recommended to specifically address the adverse effects of stress on cognitive performance. A study of high-stress students found that those who performed 1 hour of yoga daily for 7 weeks had significantly improved academic performance compared with those who did not perform yoga.15

In conclusion, given the negative impact of work-related stress on overall health, healthcare professionals should play a more active role in its management. The effectiveness of stress management interventions highlights their potential in addressing work-related stress, thereby improving psychosocial well-being, improving cognitive performance and reducing the impact of stress on an individual.


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