Study after study shows that work-related stress is the major source of stress for most adult Americans. This type of chronic stress has very real physical implications, including increased risk for heart attack, hypertension, and other illnesses. Researchers at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center decided to take their research directly into the lion’s den of stress—the surgical intensive care unit, where they randomized employees into either a stress-reduction intervention group or a control group with no stress-reduction therapy.
Stress Is What You Make of It
Those in the stress-reduction intervention group took part in mindfulness exercises, light stretching, yoga, mediation, and music therapy throughout their workday. Researchers measured psychological and biological markers of stress in both groups one week before and one week after to see if the intervention program could help decrease stress and reduce burnout.
The results, published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, showed that employees in the stress-reduction intervention group showed stress-reduction gains of up to 40%. Levels of salivary alpha amylase, which is a biomarker of the fight-or-flight stress response, significantly decreased, but no such benefit was shown in the control group.
“People who are subjected to chronic stress often will exhibit symptoms of irritability, nervousness, feeling overwhelmed; have difficulty concentrating or remembering; or having changes in appetite, sleep, heart rate and blood pressure,” said lead author Dr. Anne-Marie Duchemin, research scientist and Associate Professor Adjunct in the department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health at Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center. “Although work-related stress often cannot be eliminated, effective coping strategies may help decrease its harmful effects. The changes in the levels of salivary alpha-amylase suggest that the reactivity to stress was decreased after the 8-week group intervention.”
On the job stress most likely isn’t going to change, especially if you are a doctor or nurse working in an ER or surgical unit, but this study shows that you do have a certain degree of control over how you handle that stress. Whether your stress is due to situational aspects of your job, or a boss that causes anxiety and tension with constant demands, implanting mindfulness and stress-reduction intervention techniques like deep breathing, light yoga, and meditation while at work could go a long way in protecting your physical and mental health. Give yourself that time, and remember that quality of work surpasses quantity any day.