Caring Currents

Is Stress Sabotaging Your Heart?

Last updated: May 13, 2010


Would you cut back your work hours if you knew that working long days could -- literally -- kill you? This week researchers announced data showing that stress from overwork can indeed kill.

There were actually two studies released showing similar results. The first study found that people who work more than ten hours a day are about 60 percent more likely to develop heart disease or have a heart attack than people who clock just seven hours a day. This study was conducted by following British civil servants. Those who put in three hours of overtime had higher rates of myocardial infarction (MI), angina, and death from a coronary attack.

In a second study showing similar results, female nurses in Denmark who felt they were under "too much" pressure at work were found to have a significantly increased risk of developing angina or myocardial infarction (MI).

The real shocker: The people who worked longer hours were actually healthier, overall, than the other people studied. They were less likely to drink heavily or smoke, and they got more exercise. And yet they still died or suffered heart attacks at higher rates.

Even if you're not a Danish nurse or a British office worker, these results are directly applicable to you. Why? If you're a family caregiver, you're working many extra hours every day. And you're operating under tremendous pressure and stress.

Why is working too much so bad for you?

The answer, the researchers said, was simple: Not enough "me" time. If you're putting in long hours at work, or caring for others, or -- like most of us here -- doing both, you probably have very little free time. That translates as very few opportunities to take a deep breath, put your feet up, take a walk, or do something else that makes you feel relaxed and calm. Yet doing these things is the best way to protect your health and, therefore, protecting your loved ones.

So here are five stress-busters that take just a few minutes each. Are you more likely to do them knowing they could save your life?

1. Cuddle a pet
2. Have a laugh
3. Listen to a song
4. Take two deep breaths
5. Do a stretch, like touching your toes or reaching for the sky.

Let us know other "me time" strategies that work for you. Me, I love to go grocery shopping and take ten minutes at the checkout line to read a magazine!

Let's support each other in working fewer hours, or at least finding more "windows" to take care of ourselves.