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How work stress affects wellness, health-care costs

Previous research has shown that stress can make you more susceptible to illness and increase your risk for certain health conditions such as depression and cardiovascular disease. For many people, especially during these tough economic times, the workplace has become an increasingly stressful environment.

Now a recent study shows work stress not only compromises your personal health but can also be a contributing factor to rising health-care costs.

In the study (.pdf), Canadian researchers examined the correlation between stressful working conditions and the number of times workers visited a general practitioner or a specialist using data from the Canadian National Population Health Survey from 2000 to 2008. Booster Shots reports that results showed being in high-strain occupations was linked with more trips to see the doctor:

Those in high-stress jobs visited general practitioners 26% more and specialists 27% more compared with those in low-stress jobs. There were no differences among men and women.

Being in a medium-stress job was associated with more doctor visits for women, but not men. "This could be due to differences in stress coping abilities between males and females," the authors wrote.

In their conclusion, researchers urged companies to improve stressful working conditions and educate employees on stress-management:

The welfare gains from these stress management programs are not limited to reducing health care costs attributable to job stress. Other economic gains, for example, include increased productivity among workers, reduction in absenteeism and employee turnover in addition to other costs borne by employers.

Although the study focused on the health of Canadians, the findings are relevant to the public health discussion in the United States. A 2009 report (.pdf) shows that 70 percent of American employees consider the work place a significant source of stress, and 51 percent report that job stress reduces their productivity. Similarly, a past study found that our neighbors to the north enjoy longer, healthier lives and Canada's health expenditures have been lower than the United States' since 1970.

Previously: Can stress increase risk of neurodegenerative diseases?, No surprise here: Anger and stress are bad for your health, Robert Sapolsky on stress and your health and New year, new (less stressed) you
Photo by Alan Cleaver

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