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.