NEWS2U Health & Wellness
Living Healthy in an Unhealthy World

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Study Backs Worksite Stress Interventions

Tension-reducing programs help hearts and the bottom line, Italian researchers say
Krisha McCoy

A workplace intervention program can significantly reduce signs of stress on the heart, say researchers.

Work-related stress is one of several factors that may increase the risk of heart attack.

In a study published this week in Hypertension, researchers tested the effects of a stress-reduction intervention program in workers who faced layoffs -- a significant stress-inducer.

The participants included 91 office workers at a DuPont subsidiary in Italy that was downsizing its workforce by 10 percent and a control group of 79 healthy volunteers who worked outside of the company and reported no work-related stress.

At the start of the study, the participants were assessed by a clinical psychologist and completed a self-administered questionnaire to assess their overall stress, fatigue and bodily stress-related symptoms. They also underwent a single lead electrocardiogram (ECG), which evaluates the autonomic nervous system (ANS), a system that adjusts and modifies bodily functions in response to stress.

The stressed workers had significantly higher stress and fatigue than the controls, and reported more stress-related symptoms such as difficult sleep, pounding of the heart, and gastrointestinal problems. In addition, the stressed workers' ECGs indicated that their heart rhythm was showing signs of stress.

"This is typical of the stressed individual -- they are facing psychological pressure, but they don't want to hear about psychologists because they are feeling real, clinical symptoms," study senior author Massimo Pagani, a professor of medicine at the University of Milan in Italy, said in a prepared statement.

After the baseline assessment, the DuPont workers were invited to sign up for a weekly, one-hour stress management session that focused on relaxation and stress-related coping skills or a passive program that offered articles and monthly e-mails on stress reduction techniques. Twenty-six employees signed up for the stress-management sessions, and 25 signed up for the passive program.

Before the programs began, the autonomic measures (ECG and arterial pressure) were similar in both intervention groups, but, after a year, the stress-management program induced a significant, small reduction in arterial pressure and clear changes in ECG-derived stress indicators.

"Our study provides a potential model for the assessment of work-related stress at an individual level, and suggests that stress management programs can be implemented at the worksite," Pagani said.

More information: The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about stress management.

SOURCE: American Heart Association, news release, Jan. 8, 2007