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Manage Job Stress to Help With High Blood Pressure Under the New Guidelines

Topics: Data & Research
job stress
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You might not need to pop a pill just yet.

If you’re one of the millions of people who now are labeled hypertensive under the new blood pressure guidelines, and your doctor is on board, you might first try to manage your stress — specifically at work.

The American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology recently lowered the bar for what is considered high blood pressure. If you have a reading of 130/80 or higher, you now officially could be at risk for heart disease. (Previously, your numbers had to exceed 140/90 for you to be labeled hypertensive.)

Because too much stress can elevate blood pressure levels, doctors will tell you to manage your stress to lower your risk for heart attack, heart disease and stroke, along with making other lifestyle changes such as increasing exercise, eating healthy and losing weight. (Of course, if your doctor does recommend medication, listen to their advice. Lifestyle changes may not solve the problem on their own.)

The Work Stress Factor

Work is a big piece of the health equation, because for many people, work is a top source of stress. In the American Psychological Association’s annual Stress in America Survey, 65 percent of Americans said work is a top stressor.

So, managing work stress can be a key to managing your heart health, right? But being told to  “lower your work stress” is a vague directive, and even laughable in some cases. You can’t stop your annoying coworker from clearing her throat every 10 seconds. And you can’t just tell your boss, “Nope, not gonna make that deadline,” and not worry about getting fired.

The things we cannot control are exactly the stressors causing high blood pressure.

The main factor behind work-related stress is something called “high job strain,” according to a Belgian study. High job strain occurs when you’re exposed to “high psychological demands” in combination with low job control. The “low job control” aspect of job strain, according to study data, is what most affects blood pressure. And the effects of that stress linger well beyond your workplace walls. The Belgian Job Stress Project found that stressful jobs raise workers’ blood pressure at work, after work and even during sleep.

Finding the Right Stress Fit

The American Institute of Stress points out that stress is subjective and that some some individuals thrive in high-pressure situations. Police work, for example, has its share of stressful on-the-street interactions, but one study found that many police officers reported that paperwork was more stressful than pursuing criminals.

Because stress is a highly personalized phenomenon that can vary widely in different situations, the American Institute of Stress stresses that it is not the job but the person-environment fit that matters.

You can’t avoid stress at work, but if you find a job that’s a good fit for your personality and passions, what may be stressful for others at work might be smooth sailing for you. To find the right fit, try PayScale’s Best Jobs for You tool.

Recognize Where You Have Control

Managing the stress — no matter what the job — is how you’ll keep it from wreaking havoc on your health.

The American Heart Association recommends reducing stress by recognizing where you have control and accepting the things you can’t change. Identify things under your control, and plan how you may solve them.

Understanding the link between workplace stress — and that it’s one of our biggest sources of stress overall — can give you the perspective you may need to better manage it. The next time your cubicle neighbor is chomping on Fritos or the copy machine jams, just think: is this worth jacking up my blood pressure and damaging my health?

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