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June 1, 2000

Is Job Stress Making You Sick?

stressed woman with a headache

Photo Credit: Suprijono Suharjoto/iStock

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Stress from work can be just as hard on your health as smoking cigarettes. If you feel like you're under constant pressure to handle too much work in too little time, you need to read this special report.

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With downsizing and a recession, on-the-job stress has reached near-epidemic proportions in the U.S.: In a recent survey, about 46 percent of workers said they're feeling too much pressure at work. "People are putting in long hours, taking work home and giving up much-needed vacation time," says Bryan E. Robinson, Ph.D., author of Chained to the Desk. "Many of us are so busy we don't even eat lunch anymore." Our success-addicted culture may make you think stress is all in a day's work, but that daily pressure may be harming your health. "Chronic stress has seriously damaging effects," says Naomi Swanson, Ph.D., a Cincinnati-based researcher with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. "If your job stresses you out, your natural defenses are constantly on high alert." Stress hormones, like cortisol, flood your body, and the buildup may have a wear-and-tear effect.

Wear and tear goes deeper than feeling run-down. A high-pressure job can actually double your risk of a heart attack, and a recent study reveals that chronic work stress can be just as bad on your mental and physical well-being as smoking and not exercising. Even working in a noisy office can cause stress hormones to rise to unhealthy levels.

Fortunately, your body goes through layers of warning signs before physical damages set in. If you feel constantly on edge, that in itself is your body telling you that you need to take a break -- whether a 10-minute walk or a two-week vacation. Left unreleased, that stress buildup can turn to anxiety and depression, making it harder to focus and eventually disturbing the sleep cycles you need to stay refreshed. Sleeplessness is often the first physical symptom of an overstressed life.

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