01 March 2009

HEALTH - Your Boss Really Is Killing You - Women May Be More Vulnerable To The Detriments of Stress In Texas

Your Boss Really Is Killing You;

Women May Be More Vulnerable To The Detriments of Stress In Texas

By Patt Carpenter

"You know, I can handle my job. It's my boss that's killing me." Well, it turns out Christine, an administrative assistant for a large Midwestern city government office, may not be far from the truth. According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Americans are more likely to suffer a second heart attack if they work a stressful job. Authors Katherine Crowly and Kathi Elster of Working With You Is Killing Me: Freeing Yourself From Emotional Traps At Work, say complaints about bosses are what they hear the most.

To most of us, this seems like common sense. We joke with family and colleagues all the time about it. "Come on," we say when a loved one comes home after a stressful day. "You're going to give yourself a heart attack. Relax!" Workers from high-stress, bustling environments, like those in Austin, Dallas, and Houston, can probably relate. Our comforting words may serve a greater purpose than simple solace, however -- they may amount to life-saving advice.

For women, the news is even more disconcerting. In the United States alone, half a million women under age forty-five perish every year due to heart disease. In Texas, the condition killed more people than stroke and all other cancers, but women are more likely to suffer from it than men, according to the Texas Heart Institute. The statistic is surprising considering that the female sex has been treated less aggressively in the past for cardiovascular conditions. Women were not referred for diagnostic tests as often, according to the Institute, and heart attacks were recognized less of the time due to symptoms that often differ from those experienced by men. By the time many women are diagnosed, the severity of heart disease is usually greater and the diagnosis poorer.

In the year following a heart attack, women have a fifty percent greater chance of dying, and in six years, they're more likely to suffer a second one. Females also carry a 300% greater risk of enduring a heart attack or stroke within five years after experiencing a full-blown panic attack, according to a study recently published in the Archives of General Psychiatry.

So what's going on? Why do women seem so much more vulnerable to the detrimental effects of stress? Dr. Jordan Smoller, co-author of the study on panic attacks and heart risk, speculated that the link between panic attacks, heart attacks, and stroke may be due to heart rhythm problems or a release of stress hormones associated with panic attacks. Older women may also be more prone to the potentially deadly episodes due to decreasing estrogen levels.

Laura Kubzansky, of the Harvard School of Public Health, was not involved in Smoller's study, but conducts similar research. "The body is flooded with hormones that in the short run help [it] cope with the emergency," she said, "but in the long run take a toll."

What could, perhaps, be just as frightening is that nearly fifty million Americans are currently living without health insurance -- including one million women in Texas, according to a 2004 report released by Planned Parenthood of Houston. Lack of insurance is often linked with less access to care, says the Commonwealth Fund, a non-profit agency. So if more women are suffering from heart disease, a condition in which screening is of vital importance, yet many of those women lack adequate access to care due to health insurance issues, the nation has a serious healthcare dilemma on its hands -- and that's only considering the implications of one disease. What of cancer, HIV, obesity, and diabetes? This dire situation is of particular importance for Texas, which has the highest rate of uninsured adults at twenty-five percent, and a growing problem with chronic conditions -- like obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

One way to reduce risk, with or without health insurance, is to get a grip on stress in the workplace. In an interview with CNN, Crowly and Elster lent the following advice:

(1) Detach and depersonalize from situations you can't control.
If you have a difficult boss, for instance, accept the fact you are not going to change that person. Stress often comes about from expecting something you're simply not getting, so understand what he or she will, and will not, provide. If it's appreciation you're seeking, find it in co-workers or from simply knowing you are doing a good job.

(2) Accept that it may not be your fault.
Life isn't fair, and that sometimes includes the treatment you receive. Maybe your boss is a screamer -- a ranter and a raver, even -- but guess what? It may have nothing to do with you. Accept what you can improve on and do it, but don't blame yourself for another's nasty behavior, even if it comes from your superior.

(3) Find a physical outlet for your tension.
Go to the gym. Take a run, a hike, or a yoga class. Hell, get a massage. Just find a way to get it out! Tension builds up on a physical, as well as a psychological, level. Developing a method of dealing with it will help relax your frantic mind, as well as your clenched body.

(4) Just say "moo."
A "sacred cow" at work is what Crowly and Elster define as that boss -- you know, the one everyone thinks should have been "laid-off" long ago, but has somehow managed to hang on to give you orders. Yeah, that one. What do you do? Blow it off. Give him or her credit for being there and simply move on. Refusing to get wrapped up in negative emotions over the situation may be the only way to function on a professional level.

(5) Campaign for yourself.
Back-stabbers at work will always exist. They cut you out of meetings, into conversations, are always eager to jump in when you're not there, but are oh-so-sweet to your face. Confronting them is useless. Instead, make sure the truth is known about your skills and competencies. Know you're good at what you do, and don't be afraid to show it and to let it be known...diplomatically, of course.

(6) Remember you are in control of your experiences.
No one can dictate how you feel or how you react to situations. Ultimately, this is your responsibility, and there's a great freedom in knowing that no one has the power to upset or anger you unless you allow it. Someone else may hold your paychecks, but they can never hold your emotions.


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