Workers in the United States tend to log more and longer hours, and continue working much later in life, than most people in industrialized nations. Combine this with some of the shortest vacation time in the world, and these workers often suffer from burnout, a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress that leads to a progressive spiral of diminished health. This can become a chronic condition, leaving those who suffer from it feeling fatigued, hopeless, resentful, and more prone to obesity, insomnia, anxiety, and workplace errors. In short, burnout can be deadly.

A recent study published in Psychosomatic Medicine examined 8,838 employed Israeli men and women, aged 19 to 67 years, who were followed with check-ups for 3.4 years. Results showed 93 new cases of coronary heart disease (CHD), and burnout was associated with a 40 percent increase in CHD risk. Researchers found this to be “alarming” and were stunned that the highest one-fifth of people with burnout had close to an 80 percent increase in CHD. All these individuals were considered healthy at baseline, and those with a history of CHD were not included in the study. Typical CHD risk factors (such as age, family history, and smoking) were controlled for, so the researchers believe that job burnout now qualifies as an independent risk factor for heart disease.

These results are important for preventive health care since providers who know their patients are experiencing job stress and burnout can more closely monitor them for signs of coronary heart disease. Employers can help employees by promoting healthy lifestyles, a supportive and healthy work environment, and watching for early signs of CHD. Workers can enhance their own health by making healthy lifestyle choices (such as exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, eating nutritious meals, and avoiding alcohol and substance abuse) and seeking psychological therapy when needed.

Reference:  Toker, S., Melamed, S., Berliner, S., Zeltser, D., & Shapira, I. (2002). Burnout and risk of coronary heart disease: A prospective study of 8838 employees. Psychosomatic Medicine, 74(8), 840-847. For a summary of the research, click here…