In today’s economy, I’d usually be the last one to tell any of my patients to leave their job. That is unless it was a choice between their heart health and staying at a job that made them miserable. Let me tell you why…
Protect Your Heart: Why It’s Better to Leave A Bad Job
The sad truth is, many people feel they need to stay with a bad job because jobs are hard to come by these days. They need the steady paycheck and are afraid that they won’t find anything else. This is especially true of older people who’ve been with a company for several years and their skills may be out of date. The old theory, “the devil you know is better than the one you don’t” often wins out when making the decision to leave an unhappy work situation.
Most people opt to stay in a physically and emotionally taxing job, even if they have to chronically deal with a hostile work environment. Yet, the toll that working like this can take on your health, in the long run, will hardly be worth the sacrifice. That bad job may ultimately wind up sacrificing your heart, and the rest of you. Chronic stress leaves you wide open for fatal heart attacks, strokes, even cancer.
Even though I, and most of my fellow physician colleagues, have known this simple fact for years, recent research has actually proven job stress/burnout to be a major health risk. Researchers at Tel Aviv University found that chronic job burnout/stress was a stronger predictor of coronary heart disease (CHD). It even beat out all of the other risk factors – like smoking, cholesterol levels, obesity and inactivity. And from a cardiologist’s perspective, that’s saying a lot.
In fact, the researchers’ results were even more extreme and “alarming” than they had expected. Participants in their study with burnout were at 40% increased risk of developing CHD. But, those participants who were at the top 20% of job burnout levels had a 79% elevation in risk for CHD.
The workplace factors that typically went into creating chronic stress and eventual job burnout were:
- High stress environment
- Heavy workloads – either physically taxing work and/or too-long work hours
- Feelings of lack of control over work situations – having to wait/hope others will make necessary changes to solve ongoing work problems
- Feeling a lack of emotional support, respect
The researchers found that all these factors directly took their toll on health by physically weakening the body. They were also associated with obesity – overeating from stress and the development of type 2 diabetes; insomnia – inability to sleep from stress/worry, also associated with job accidents, errors, co-worker fights; increased anxiety, smoking, alcohol (or other substance) intake from chronically feeling “under the gun” everyday in the work environment.
These situations also contribute to creating inflammation throughout the body which further leads to degrading of your physical health.
Once job burnout has begun, if you don’t do anything to counter its effects, it continues to worsen until something gives. That something is usually your heart or your brain. So what are your options?
Beat Job Burnout/Stress and Save Your Heart
You have several options when dealing with job burnout/stress that include:
1. Talk to an Employee Assistance counselor: If the company you work for is big enough, they likely have either a Wellness Plan or an Employee Assistance Plan as part of your benefits. Tell them about your feelings and find out if there is another position, or department, you can be transferred to without causing more work strife. If there is no such program, talk to your doctor, or find a private therapist who can help you sort things out. Your doctor can also monitor your health to stay on top of any developing stress-related problems.
2. Scouts for Another Job. While continuing to work, actively look for another job. It may help you physically, psychologically, to know that you’re doing something to get out and your days are limited in this bad situation.
3. Vacation time. Do you have any vacation or sick time accrued? If so, schedule some time off and take a much needed vacation, even if you just stay home. Get more sleep and exercise and do some things you enjoy doing, even schedule a few job interviews. It will help recharge your psyche and give you more hope as well as take a load of stress off your heart and brain.
4. Exercise and Relaxation. With a very stressful job, it’s crucial to release that stress. Exercise is the best way to do that. Go for a walk, bike ride, swim, go to the gym, after work for at least 30 minutes. This helps release the constant adrenaline that’s been pumping through your body all day. You’ll be more able to relax and fall asleep at bedtime.
5. Sleep more. With chronic job stress, it’s hard to get to sleep or sleep all night without waking. Many people wake during the night dreading the following day at work. Try to get as much sleep as possible on workday nights. Try some melatonin and stop drinking caffeine at least by 5 pm.
6. Retirement. If you’re age 62, or near it, you might consider retiring early and collecting social security benefits to help with finances. Even though you’re technically retired, you can still work at a different job for additional income. It can be a good way to get out from under a job that’s making you miserable, and sick, and take a break from working until you feel better and decide what you want to do. It can also help you transition into a “second act” career or even start that little business idea you’ve had.
Job burnout is not just a social or financial problem. As research shows, it can become a real risk to your physical health. If you’re experiencing job burnout/stress, take steps to get it under control now before a heart attack or stroke forces you to.
Ron Blankstein, M.D.
Job Burnout Can Severely Compromise Heart Health, http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/03/130312134906.htm
Perceived Stress May Predict Future Coronary Heart Disease Risk, http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/12/121217121413.htm