We Stress - Don’t Let Your Heart Over Work

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Adj Prof John G Kelly AM

Heart Foundation Chief Executive Officer

Many of us devote passions towards our jobs with all our heart – but at what price?

US Presidential candidate Hilary Clinton recently suffered a health episode that led to vigorous discussion on the health of both party candidates in the running.

Men who have held the highest office in the US have a history of illnesses (many hidden) during their term, including heart-related matters for George HW Bush (irregular heartbeat), Dwight D Eisenhower (heart attack & stroke) and Woodrow Wilson (series of strokes).

Stress in the workplace is a serious problem that can contribute towards a heart attack, especially for people with heart disease and those already at high risk.

Modern workplace characteristics that influence your health and level of stress include unreasonable demands, low job control, imbalance of reward-effort, job insecurity and extended hours.

When you factor in workplace stresses with everyday factors such as family, bills, housing and especially during finals time, sport, the importance of life balance illuminates brighter than any neon warning sign.

Physical and emotional stress on the body and mind can overwhelm your most important organ – the heart. People, particularly those with heart disease, should take extra care of themselves and be aware of their emotional health.

With this cocktail of living factors, prioritising areas and limiting stress remains critical to your overall health and one the hardest places to establish balance is work.

It is critical to your overall health to have good stress management in the workplace – which starts by taking control.

In the 2015 Heart Foundation Heart Attack Survivors Survey, one in two people could not reduce the stress in their lives post event and more than 75% listed reducing stress as challenging.

Stress has been linked to a wide range of health issues, including mood, sleep, and appetite problems and research confirms that it also plays a role in causation of heart attacks.

Stress may also influence the heart in more subtle ways such as increasing blood pressure levels, eating unhealthily or not being able to find the time or the energy to exercise. It can also lead to other heart-damaging behaviours such as smoking and drinking too much alcohol.

In 2011/12, one in eight Australian workers had cardiovascular disease. For these 13%, there is a negative impact on employment due to absenteeism and early retirement.

Some tips for keeping the pressure down at work include:

  • Take your lunch breaks and go for a walk, eat in the park, get some fresh air. It can be 10 minutes or your allocated hour but by doing so you’ll be refreshed energised and have a more productive afternoon.
  • Make sure you have a healthy work/life balance. 
  • Learn to say 'no', politely of course.
  • Don't allow yourself to be overwhelmed by new commitments.
  • Learn to relax with breathing and relaxation exercises.
  • Allocate time to do the things you enjoy such as exercising, meditating, reading, gardening or listening to music.

Effective workplace health programs have been shown to improve the health and wellbeing of employees and facilitate organisational changes, such as reduced absenteeism and increased productivity.

If you are interested in improving the health or your employees, the Heart Foundation has a range of tools available for you including the Healthy Workplace Guide:
https://resources.heartfoundation.org.au/images/uploads/publications/Healthy-workplace-guide.pdf