We are learning many things as we develop as a world and global society. One of the most important things we have realized in the last few years is that, contrary to the culture of the 1980s and 1990s, stress does not have a positive impact on your life. Stress used to mean that you were needed - you were important, everyone wanted something of you, so you were stressed. Relaxed people were often seen as being at the lower end of the career scale, and even social scale. However, there have been many recent studies which link stress to the possibility of an early death - no matter what other precautions you take against disease like chronic heart disease.
A recent European study has been widely publicized - this study followed 10,000 British civil servants, over a 12 year period. The factors they included were cortisol levels (a stress hormone), heart rate, blood pressure, diet, exercise and smoking habits - and the critical factor was how they felt about their job. In a figure which can't be ignored, those under the age of 50 who thought that their job was stressful had a 70% greater chance of developing chronic heart disease than did those who thought they had a relatively stress free career.
We must differentiate here between good stress and bad stress. Good stress is generally considered to be stress in short bursts, which is not maintained - it can be either of the emotional or physical kind. Physical stress includes exercise - which everybody knows is a factor in preventing heart disease. It can also include short-term emotional stress, like the buzz you get from trying something new, or facing a fear. Bad stress is prolonged, low level stress - if your body is constantly exposed to high levels of Cortisol, this is when your systems can start to go astray and increase your risk of heart disease.
Cortisol is one side of the double edged sword of stress's effect on heart disease. The other side is the fact that a stressful job often creates other lifestyle changes - people with high stress at work are less likely to choose fresh fruits and vegetables for dinner. They want fattening, sugary comfort food, and often don't have the time to cook - eating processed food, with its hosts of 'partially hydrogenated this' and 'hydrolysed that', is recognized as a major factor in your risk of developing heart disease. Furthermore, if you spend all your time at work, and worrying about work, you are less likely to engage in exercise, which plays a critical role in reducing blood pressure and ensuring arterial walls are healthy.
However, even those that made the great effort to maintain a healthy lifestyle despite their job stress had a greatly increased risk of heart disease. The link is maintained because stress was found to upset the part of the nervous system that regulates the heart's workings and beat. Cortisol, the stress hormone, increases blood pressure through its effect on the heart's workings, and also suppresses the autoimmune system and increases blood sugar levels. You are more likely to get any illness when you are stressed - heart disease and diabetes are just chief among many.
To reduce your chance of ending up without a job - and in fact, without a life - reduce your stress at work. Talk to your boss about reduced demands, think about changing careers, or accept the fact that to reduce your stress you may need to reduce your income. It is all, in fact, a positive for your heart!
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