Whether it is the pressure of deadlines, long hours at work, job insecurity or harassment at the workplace, occupational stress can affect every aspect of our life. From depression, anxiety, low self-esteem and irritability to diabetes and heart diseases, it can trigger serious health and relationship complications.
GN Focus brings together a panel of doctors to look at some of the common issues related to job stress.
Headache and migraine
Some of the most common causes for headaches are tension, anxiety and fatigue. It’s not unusual to get a headache at stressful times, but doctors say there are other causes such as sitting for long hours without moving, cold and flu or sinusitis, smoking and overworking.
“During times of stress, hormones such as adrenaline are released to cope with the stressful situation that causes blood vessels to dysfunction. This may constrict or dilate blood vessels. The changes in the blood vessels affect the pain sensitivity in the brain, causing some forms of headache,” says Dr Dennis Culiat Monzon, General Practitioner, Aster Jubilee Medical Complex, Bur Dubai.
Stress is a common trigger for migraine attacks. These can last from a couple of hours to days and weeks. Dr Ammar F. Hasan, General Practitioner, Medcare, says many people experience migraine during weekends and holidays, when they are more relaxed. After a stressful week at work, sudden changes in the levels of stress hormones can cause weekend headaches.
Understand the triggers for headaches and migraines and avoid them, say doctors. “Once you have identified that you are undergoing stress, it is important to consult a doctor and seek proper guidance and medication to treat it effectively. Distracting yourself from negative thoughts and doing things that make you happy, listening to music or writing poems or painting, for instance, are great ways to relieve stress,” says Dr Hasan.
Chronic occupational stress can make us age faster. A study published by Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, in 2012 highlighted that phobic anxiety is a possible risk factor for accelerated ageing.
Stress can hasten the ageing process by six years. Long-term exposure to stress can cause an imbalance of stress hormones in our body, leading to premature ageing.
Tension is an important cause for depression and anxiety. “Elevation in the levels of stress hormone cortisol, as caused by stressors such as pressures at work, leads to changes in the brain structure, decrease in the number of neurons and the inability of the brain to produce new neurons. This leads to adverse health issues including psychological disorders such as depression and anxiety,” says Dr Elizabeth Kurian, Specialist Psychiatrist, Aster Medical Centre, Sharjah.
To manage stress, take time out to analyse stressful situations and understand what seems to be causing stress. “Find out options to avoid or alter the situation. Don’t carry the burden of your job even on holidays. Learning to lessen the impact of stress is the modern-day mantra to a healthy life,” says Dr Kurian.
Neck and back pain
If you don’t hold your laptop or tablet correctly, it can cause neck pain and stiffness in your spine. Laptop neck is the spasm of muscles in the neck and back that we develop due to constant use of a laptop. “When emotional stress is transferred to the body, the muscles go into a spasm and squeeze the blood out of the small diameter vessels. This decreases circulation and causes pain. Furthermore, when the muscles receive less blood, they weaken and contribute to the vicious pain-spasm-pain cycle,” says Dr Sripathi Rao, Orthopaedic Surgeon, Medcare.
When asked how to use a laptop or computer safely to prevent any back and neck problems, Dr Senthil T. Nathan, Specialist Orthopaedic Surgeon, Mediclinic Welcare Hospital, says: “If the laptop is positioned too high to comfort the neck, our arms and wrists get outstretched and raised. And if the laptop is kept at a lower level for the wrists and arms, it increases the strain on the neck/back resulting in neck and back issues.”
Always position the screen of your computer at eye level and don’t slouch while working on a laptop, says Dr Nathan. “Take small breaks after 45-60 minutes and use a chair that works for you.”
Studies have highlighted that stress can increase your risks for developing high blood pressure and cardiac health issues. According to World Heart Federation, acute stress triggers reduce blood flow to the heart, promotes your heart to beat irregularly and increases the likelihood of blood clotting. All of these can trigger the development of cardiovascular disease. Living a stressful life can cause people to adopt poor habits such as smoking and eating badly, which are the risk factors for cardiovascular disease.
The way we deal with stressors in our lives is critical for our health. “Exercising and maintaining a positive attitude to life is important for heart health. Stop smoking and drinking and reduce your intake of coffee. Follow a balanced eating plan to maintain a healthy body weight,” says Dr Hesham Mohamed Saad, Specialist Cardiologist, Mediclinic Welcare Hospital.
The gastrointestinal tract like other parts of the body is responsive to both physical and psychological stress. A study prepared by the United States Navy and the State University of New York, Stonybrook, throws light on the connection between high stress occupations and gastrointestinal disorders. The effect of stress on the gastrointestinal tract is mainly due to the brain-gut interactions. “Acute stress can cause alterations in the movement of various parts of the gastrointestinal tract thus causing symptoms such as pain, bloating, diarrhoea or constipation,” says Dr Thomas Joseph, Specialist Gastroenterologist, Aster Medical Centre, Karama.
Irritable bowel syndrome and functional dyspepsia or indigestion are some examples of stress-related gastrointestinal disorders. Stress can also exacerbate symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease, inflammatory bowel diseases and peptic ulcer disease, says Dr Joseph.
Along with the mind and body, prolonged exposure to job stress can also take a toll on marriage and family life. Dr Andrea Tosatto, Clinical Psychologist, Synergy Integrated Medical Centre, says stress can affect a marital/family relationship in many ways.
“The modern materialistic society based on unrealistic ideas of infinite growth, pushes us to perform constantly in order to satisfy our needs. This puts tremendous pressure on us. When stressed we usually become less tolerant and more demanding. Job stress can also lead to a decrease in libido, which affects our marriage,” he says.
“Fifteen minutes of meditation in the morning and evening can usher
significant changes in our daily lives. It can help us relax and relieve stress,” he adds.