Is the Stress of Your Job Killing You?

job stressAt the age of 39, Jo Anne Shumard had a heart attack. To make matters worse, she ignored the symptoms for two and a half hours -- because healthy 39-year-old women don't have heart attacks, especially not ones who eat properly and exercise regularly. A weekend in intensive care and a year of recovery proved otherwise.

After a nine-year career as a litigator, where Shumard routinely pulled "all nighters" on Wednesdays and Thursdays so she could spend the weekend with her family, Shumard became a partner in her husband's bankruptcy law practice helping people in financial crisis. Oddly enough, she discovered that her clients' economic issues had warning signs they ignored and stages of recovery they all had to go through, just like her cardiac arrest -- and this prompted her to write Is Your Wallet Killing You? Financial CPR.

Katie Malachuk graduated from Stanford's Graduate School of Business school in 2003 and landed a position at a prestigious New York City management consulting firm. But compared to her earlier stints as a teacher and admissions director for Teach America, the consulting work seemed meaningless and the work environment was quite stressful. Malachuk started to suffer from severe stomach problems and excessive weight loss and developed a host of allergies.

During this time, Malachuk started practicing yoga and studying the chakras (energy centers along the spine). She resigned from her management-consulting position, became a yoga instructor and earned a certificate in holistic health counseling. Her health problems disappeared.

As these two examples show, job stress can take a toll on our health and well-being if not kept in check. So how can we manage job-related stress? I turned to experts in psychology and fitness for their advice.

Katherine Crowley, a Harvard-trained psychoanalyst and co-author of a New York Times best-selling book, Working wIth You is Killing Me -- Freeing Yourself From Emotional Traps at Work suggests the following tips to reduce work-related stress:

  1. Connect with your passion. Instead of collapsing after work, take up a hobby or activity that you love. Doing something you truly enjoy will cleanse you of the day's toxins and remind you that there is more to life than work.
  2. Circulate, don't isolate. Don't run home and eat bad food. Instead, schedule fun activities with people you like who support you. This could be a group of friends, a shared-interest group, or past co-workers whom you miss.
  3. Hop on the soul train. Feed yourself spiritually in some way. It may be reading inspiring ideas, going to church, or taking a class in mindful meditation. Hopping on the soul train reminds you of the bigger picture and shows you options in terms of how you approach your stressful situation.

Dr. Joseph Cilona, a Manhattan-based clinical psychologist who provides expert advice and commentary for national publications and online outlets had this to say:

  1. Eat chocolate. New research has shown that eating about an ounce and a half of dark chocolate daily for at least two weeks can decrease levels of damaging stress hormones.
  2. Change your light bulbs. Changing normal white lighting to blue-enriched lighting has been found to decrease fatigue in the evening, increase positive mood, diminish irritability, and improve sleep at night.
  3. Focus on romance. Research has shown that having a good love relationship can significantly decrease the detrimental effects of work-related stress. However, negative relationships can amplify the damaging effects of stress in the workplace.

Stephanie Mansour, a Chicago-based personal trainer, yoga and pilates instructor, life coach, and creator of the "cubicle crunch" believes that simple stretches at your desk can help alleviate work-related stress and achiness caused by poor posture when seated for long periods of time. She recommends:

  1. Wrist stretches to minimize the likelihood of developing carpal tunnel syndrome
  2. Shoulder roles and arm reaches to alleviate tenseness in neck and back
  3. Leg crosses to stretch the gluteal muscles.

Experiencing some job-related stress is normal. But when the stress starts affecting your health, it's time to take action. Whether it's chocolate (in moderation), exercise, or romance, find what works for you and make it part of your regular stress-busting routine. Be well!

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