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Workplace and social stress may increase women's risk of heart disease, study finds

Experts are worried about the long-term impact that stress can have on women’s health

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A new study conducted by researchers from Drexel University explored the association between women’s stress levels and potential health complications

According to their findings, women with higher levels of psychosocial stress -- like stressors from work or social demands -- had an increased risk of developing coronary heart disease. The researchers say these findings are particularly important during the COVID-19 pandemic, as many women have taken on even more responsibilities at home over the last year that can increase stress levels. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted ongoing stresses for women balancing paid work and social stressors,” said researcher Yvonne Michael. “We know from other studies that work strain may play a role in developing CHD, but now we can better pinpoint the combined impact of stress at work and at home on these poor health outcomes. My hope is that these findings are a call for much better methods of monitoring stress in the workplace and remind us of the dual burden working women face as a result of their unpaid work as caregivers at home.” 

Health risks linked with stress

For the study, the researchers analyzed data from more than 80,000 women involved in the Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study. The participants responded to a survey that gauged their stress levels, and the study tracked the women’s long-term health outcomes. 

The study showed that women with the highest levels of psychosocial stress were more than 20 percent more likely to develop CHD. The researchers then broke down those findings to see how life stressors and general social stressors played a role in the participants’ heart health. The findings revealed that feeling strained by social relationships was linked with roughly a 10 percent increased chance of developing heart disease; life stressors like divorce or death were associated with a 12 percent increased risk of heart disease. 

While stress may seem nearly impossible to avoid for many consumers, the researchers hope these findings encourage more women to adopt healthy habits that can lower their stress levels. Finding ways to cope with the stress can help women maintain long-term heart health. 

“Our findings are a critical reminder to women, and those who care about them, that the threat of stress to human health should not go ignored,” said researcher Conglong Wang, Ph.D. “This is particularly pertinent during the stressors caused by a pandemic.” 

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