Wayne State Study: Work Stress for Women May Lead to Heart Problems

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Women who experience chronic work stress could face negative mental and physical health implications, according to a recent study by researches at Wayne State University. The research team used monitors and smartphone devices to record reactions to daily stress.

In partnership with the Swedish Research Council for Health, Wayne State recently published the study in the journal, Psychosomatic Medicine. The report looked at how chronic and momentary work stress during the day influenced the cardiac reactions of female managers at institutions in Sweden.

“Our study sheds light on the various forms of stress experienced by women in positions of responsibility and authority, and how the combination of acute and chronic stress can have a particularly negative health effect,” says Dr. Bergt Arnetz, a Wayne State professor and leader of the research team. “This cohort of women is rarely studied, yet they have unique challenges and risks, including work-family balance, workplace discrimination, and increased risk of burnout.”

The team utilized wireless sensors to monitor the heart rates of participants. The sensors coordinated with subjects’ smartphones, sending messages when they experienced elevations in heart rates. Respondents would then record the level of their momentary stress.

“We found that these women had elevated heart rates at work on multiple occasions throughout the day, and subjective stress was experienced routinely at these times,” Arnetz says. “This suggests that the stress from managerial positions for women may have negative mental and physical health implications.”

The researchers note that technology may offer some benefits for sufferers of chronic stress.

“The new wireless technologies can track subtle physiological signals in daily life and alert the individual when physiological anxiety occurs,” says Mark Lumley, lead author of the study and a psychology professor at Wayne State. “These findings are not only useful in the research lab, but also in clinical practices, where technology can be easily modified to educate people about their physiology in daily life, and alert them to take corrective actions when they have unhealthy or abnormal psychophysiological reactions, such as an increased heart rate.”

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