Sorry: Work Stress Is Just as Bad for You as Secondhand Smoke

Everyone just breathe.

Woman looking at her phone while smoking outside her workplace
(Image credit: Getty Images)

It's far from breaking news that stress is bad for you, but new research from the Harvard Business School and Stanford University has outed exactly how damaging it can be to your body and mind, and it's not pretty: Workplace stress is just as harmful to your health as secondhand smoke.

In a meta-analysis of 228 studies, researchers looked at how 10 common workplace stressors—including long work hours, poor social support in the office and work-family conflict—affected four health outcomes: having a diagnosed condition, the perception of poor physical health, the perception of poor mental health, and, finally, death.

Those suffering from job insecurity are 50 percent more likely to rate their health as poor, which are the same odds reported by people exposed to secondhand smoke.

Additionally, similar to the effects of secondhand smoke, high job demands raise the odds of having a diagnosed illness by 35 percent, and long work hours increase odds of death by 20 percent. You read that right: 20 percent.

Because a lot of workplace stressors stem from company values and practices, reducing these odds will require employer intervention. But because it might take a while for your workplace to realize the importance and benefits of creating a low-stress work environment, here are five ways you can find better work-life balance.

How to Work Healthier, Not Harder

  • Sharpen your time management skills. With so much on your plate every day, speak with your higher-ups about setting realistic goals and deadlines for your day-to-day. Rank those tasks in order of priority, says Mayo Clinic.
  • Take your lunch break. Okay, we're guilty of the bite-and-type multi-tasking lunch, too. But getting time away from your screen can do you a lot of good. Even a 30-minute lunchtime walk can improve enthusiasm, relaxation and nervousness at work, according to a small January 2015 study from the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports.
  • Rethink your commute. If your commute to work is unbearably long or stressful, rethink how far you live from your job. Satisfaction with the work commute contributes to overall happiness, according to a 2013 study. Even if your actual workday isn't always pleasant, at least going to and from your job won't add to the stress.
  • Find an enjoyable outlet for your stress. Incorporate a fun activity or hobby into your daily routine. Researchers in a February 2015 study found that people who engaged in some sort of leisure every day had better moods, less stress and lower heart rates than when they did not engage in a leisure activity.
  • Turn off your smartphone. 35 percent of workers said their smartphones increase the number of hours they work each day, according to the Pew Research Center. Findings from a March 2012 review published in Current Directions in Psychological Science suggest employees who detach from work after hours are more satisfied with their lives and experience fewer symptoms of psychological strain—all without affecting their engagement at work.

The next time you're feeling burnout in the workplace, remember your wellbeing comes first and there are many ways to keep your job from negatively affecting other parts of your life.

Tehrene Firman

When she’s not keeping up with the latest health news, Tehrene is probably doing one of the following things: walking her fluffy little dog, Trixie, blogging about food and fitness at, watching Law & Order: SVU, or getting her sweat on in Pilates or spinning. And if she’s not doing any of the aforementioned activities, she’s probably eating french fries.