Stressed out at work? Researchers say friends and family could be cure
Tue Oct 26, 2004
by JUDY MONCHUK

CALGARY (CP) - Having a happy marriage may help workers cope with pressure cooker stress at the office, a new study suggests.

"People who have stress and strain at work are at higher risk of high blood pressure, and if they have supportive relationships at home, that modifies the effect," said Dr. Sheldon Tobe of Toronto's Sunnybrook and Women's College Health Sciences Centre. "But if they have a stressful relationship at home, it will actually make their blood pressure worse," said Tobe, a Heart and Stroke Foundation researcher.

The study found couples who were the most supportive and enjoyed each other's company had the lowest blood pressure. High blood pressure increases the risk of heart attack, stroke or kidney disease.

The findings, which applied to both men and women, are to be released Tuesday at the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress in Calgary.

Tobe's research looked at 248 full-time Toronto hospital workers, all married or with partners, aged between 40 and 65. The 135 women and 113 men, all considered highly paid and highly educated, wore blood pressure monitors for 24 hours and filled out questionnaires evaluating job stress and marital harmony.

"Our research is telling us that people who have high job stress should seek more support at home to balance out their life," said Tobe. "And perhaps people who have stressful relationships at home should seek a work life that is more supportive and less stressful to balance their life as well."

The study did not examine if children had any impact on stress and blood pressure.

More than one in five adult Canadians have high blood pressure. Half of Canadians have developed high blood pressure by age 65.

More research being presented Tuesday found that a strong relationship among co-workers can help reduce stress.

"Job strain is a combination of high levels of psychological demand at a rapid pace coupled with low decision latitude, a feeling of having no control, no empowerment, no opportunity to use one's skills," said Dr. Alain Milot of Laval University, who will present results from the seven-year study.

The research found that over time, people with low co-worker support were more likely to develop high blood pressure from their jobs.

"We have found that the social support of colleagues or supervisors can significantly modify this," said Milot, whose team initially assessed 7,485 white collar workers in Quebec City and followed up with 6,200.

The increased pressures of the modern workplace have been well-documented in recent years, with companies making do with fewer employees who face a higher workload.

Tobe says while the results seem to be almost common sense, the studies hold a strong message for employers.

"Most employers are happy that they're putting high job demands on employees to be as efficient and productive as possible," he said.

"But where people don't have the ability to make decisions on their own, for example, an air traffic controller who has to put up his hand to go to the bathroom, employers can help," he said.

Giving workers more power over their own day, reducing job demands and trying to ensure a supportive work environment are all things that can help, he said.