Sunday, March 31, 2019

Work Stress and Cardiovascular Disease

It is well known that work stress is associated with cardiovascular disease (e.g., high blood pressure, cholesterol problems). Unfortunately, researchers have not been able to determine exactly why this connection exists. Why do work stress and cardiovascular disease seem to go hand in hand? Recently, researchers from two universities in The Netherlands conducted a study to identify the bodily processes that are responsible.

What was the research about?
One hundred and twenty-four middle-aged, white-collar workers at a large computer company participated in the study. Blood samples were obtained from participants on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday of a workweek. The blood samples were used to assess the levels of various chemicals in the blood. The participants also completed a work-stress questionnaire to assess effort-reward imbalance and overcommitment. Effort-reward imbalance refers to working very hard but not getting much for it. Overcommitment refers to a combination of needing approval, being competitive, being impatient and irritable, and not being able to withdraw from work obligations.
They found that overcommitment was associated with cardiovascular disease. Effort-reward imbalance or the interaction between overcommitment and effort-reward imbalance, however, was unrelated to cardiovascular disease. In particular, they found that overcommitment was related to an impaired fibrinolytic system. The fibrinolytic system is a bodily process that is responsible for getting rid of blood clots before they can do any damage. Therefore, one probable reason why work stress is associated with cardiovascular disease is that overcommitment impairs the fibrinolytic system, resulting in blood clots.

Why should it matter to me?
People may find it in their best interest to avoid becoming overcommitted at work. Although nothing is necessarily wrong with commitment, going overboard may lead to an impaired fibrinolytic system, and consequently, an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

Source: Vrijkotte, T. G. M., van Doornen, L. J. P., & de Geus, E. J. C. (1999). Work stress and metabolic and hemostatic risk factors. Psychosomatic Medicine, 61, 796-805.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Alcohol and Stress

Why do people drink when stressed, or do they?

A common assumption that many people have is that people use alcohol to deal with stress. Although this may be "common knowledge," researchers have not been able to find much support for this notion. In other words, people as a whole do not seem to drink as a way to deal with stress. Some studies have shown, however, that men who believe that drinking leads to positive outcomes or feelings of carelessness tend to use alcohol as a stress reliever. Unfortunately, these studies asked people to reflect back on past behavior, which is not a very good way to investigate this issue. Researchers from the University of Connecticut Health Center recently conducted a study to investigate this issue using a more appropriate approach.

What was the research about?
Eighty-eight community residents participated in the study after responding to newspaper advertisements. They completed an initial questionnaire measuring alcohol expectancies, the outcomes they expected after drinking alcohol. Each day for sixty days, they completed a brief questionnaire about the stress they experienced, their desire to drink, and their alcohol consumption.
Consistent with some of the other studies on this issue, men who believed that drinking leads to positive outcomes or feelings of carelessness wanted to and actually did drink more alcohol on more stressful days than they did on less stressful days. Additionally, men who believed that drinking leads to impairment showed the opposite pattern, wanting to and actually drinking less alcohol on more stressful days than on less stressful days. Alcohol use among women was not related to stress.

Why should it matter to me?
This study provides strong evidence for why some people drink in response to stress. Men who drink may want to think about whether their beliefs about the consequences of alcohol consumption are leading them to use alcohol as an unhealthy, shortsighted approach to stress relief.
Source: Armeli, S., Carney, M. A., Tennen, H., Afflect, G., & O'Neil, T. P. (2000). Stress and alcohol use: A daily process examination of the stressor-vulnerability model. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 78, 979-994.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Job Stress and Sleep Disorders

It may seem obvious that job stress can lead to problems with sleep. Although the few studies that have investigated this issue have found a link between job stress and sleep disorders, the findings are not very convincing. These studies had problems such as basing the results on small, specialized samples of people that may not have been similar to people in general and using questionable measures of job stress and sleep disorders. Fortunately, a recent investigation by a group of researchers in Finland has provided a convincing explanation for the link between job stress and sleep disorders.

What was the research about?
Using data from the Helsinki Heart Study, a large-scale study that investigated whether certain drugs could prevent coronary heart disease, the researchers examined the data from 3,079 participants. The participants consisted of middle-aged men employed by two state agencies and five industrial companies. The researchers looked at the responses of participants on questionnaires measuring job demands, job decision latitude, and symptoms of sleep disorders. Job demands represented how demanding people's jobs were, such as has how fast or hard they had to work. Job decision latitude represented how much input they had about their job, such as whether they had the freedom to decide how to do their job or what was done on their job.
The researchers found that higher job demands and less decision latitude were related to experiencing more symptoms of sleep disorders. People who had demanding jobs about which they had little input tended to have the most problems falling asleep, staying asleep, and remaining alert during waking hours.

Why should it matter to me?
People who have sleep-related problems may want to consider whether their job is a factor. They may sleep better if they find a job that is less stressful or find a way to reduce the stress they experience while working (i.e., using stress management skills or somehow reducing job demands or increasing decision latitude).
Source: Kalimo, R., Tenkanen, L., Härmä, M., Poppius, E., & Heinsalmi, P. (2000). Job stress and sleep disorders: Findings from the Helsinki Heart Study. Stress Medicine, 16, 65-75.

Thursday, March 7, 2019


Most people are familiar with the term workaholic. What exactly is a workaholic, though? More importantly, is workaholism something people should strive for or try to avoid?
Regarding a definition of workaholism, the first and best definition of workaholism proposed by researchers identifies three types of workaholics: workaholics, work enthusiasts, and enthusiastic workaholics. Workaholics are very involved and strongly driven but do not enjoy their work very much. Work enthusiasts are very involved and enjoy their work very much but lack drive. Enthusiastic workaholics are very involved, strongly driven, and really enjoy their work.
Unfortunately, very little research has been done to find out the extent to which workaholism involves stress and other problems. Despite the lack of evidence, researchers have strong opinions on the subject. Some argue that workaholism is beneficial for the individual and the organization. Others argue that workaholism is damaging to the individual and the organization, likening it to other addictions, such as alcoholism. A researcher at York University in Canada recently reported the findings from a study aimed at clarifying this issue.

What was the research about?
The study examined the association between the different types of workaholism and well-being. Five hundred and thirty people responded to a set of questionnaires sent by mail. The participants had MBA degrees from a Canadian university and were employed full-time. Responses on the questionnaires were used to determine workaholism types and well-being.
The results demonstrated that different types of workaholism were related to well-being in different ways, which may help explain some of the inconsistencies in the other research. Compared to work enthusiasts and enthusiastic workaholics, workaholics tended to suffer more from negative bodily symptoms (e.g., headache), to engage less in healthy behaviors (e.g., exercise), and to be worse off emotionally.

Why should it matter to me?
People who have a great deal of involvement in their work may want to figure out what type workaholism they have, if any. People who fall into the workaholic category may find their job less stressful and feel better overall if they find a way to make their job more enjoyable and possibly also find a way to avoid being excessively driven to work.
Source: Burke, R. J. (2000). Workaholism in organizations: Psychological and physical well-being consequences. Stress Medicine, 16, 11-16.