Nowadays, more and more workers report feeling stressed.
I can relate.
Like most people, I get nervous when I'm being put on the spot at a meeting or need to respond to my editor's criticism.
I'm about to go into a meeting that I'm stressed about.
I have two deadlines to meet.
To learn how stress at work affects our health, I'm enrolling in a scientific experiment.
Big sigh of relief.
Let's see what the week brings.
There's a whole cascade of physiological responses that occur under stress.
And each of us differs in the way in which we respond.
Columbia University professor Richard Sloan and his lab developed a unique way to measure the impact of stress on our health.
Can you tell us about the experiment that I'm going to be putting myself through for the next week?
What we're interested in is trying to understand the underlying physiology of the experience of stress throughout the regular day.
For seven days, I'll need to wear a small portable heart monitor and fill out a questionnaire on a modified iPod.
For this study, Richard Sloan's lab has developed an app that will prompt me to log my mood, who I'm with, and how stressed I am 12 to 15 times a day.
With the combination of these two sets of data we'll be able to get a pretty interesting picture of how your heart responds to a variety of different circumstances.
Under stress, glands above the kidneys release stress-related hormones like adrenaline, which increases our heart rate.
We sweat more, and the way we metabolize food changes.
Our immune system goes into overdrive, and that can cause inflammation.
This response is meant to protect us against an infection.
That's good, as long as the response, the inflammatory response, doesn't outlast the challenge.
If our immune system is overactive for too long, it won't be able to protect us against a cold or an infectious disease.
Is stress always bad?
Excessive stress is bad.
A certain amount of stress can help us be engaged and work better, but chronic stress can have a negative impact on our health.
One of the classic cases of extended stress is caregiving.
Stressful work experiences, having a work environment that is not supportive, having a boss who is frequently angry or hostile, critical is another chronic stressor.
Chronic stress puts us at risk for developing a variety of diseases.
It changes the way our bodies release insulin, the hormone that regulate level of sugar in the blood, and that increases the risk for developing diabetes.
The prolonged inflammation linked to chronic stress can damage blood vessels, and that can up the risk of heart disease.
My job is demanding, the hours are long, and I'm curious to know how I'm coping.
This is my first video entry, and I've been wearing the heart monitor now for probably five hours.
Logging and wearing a heart monitor only added to my everyday stress.
I had to make sure the data and circumstances were recorded.
I'm about to go into a stressful meeting.
Hopefully it'll go well.
But the experiment also helped me understand who and what stresses me out and the impact of confronting personal challenges.
Knowing that scientists were going to sift through my data made me work out harder.
It also made me more conscious of my work-life balance.
I am basically gonna go back to work seven hours after I left the office.
It's Wednesday night at 9:04 p.m., and I'm still at the office.
2:17 a.m. on Saturday, September ...
Do I look like a stress case in this data?
You don't report a lot of stress.
Over the seven-day period when you were prompted about whether you were experiencing stress right now, only 12 times did you report yes to that out of about 70 or so.
Overall, my cardiogram was perfectly normal.
But even though I wasn't consistently stressed all week, I remember moments when my heart rate changed.
For instance, when I had to pitch a new project, the heart monitor picked up on that.
I'm sitting in Bryant Park.
A long walk outside after some weekend work helped me cope with stress.
I feel pretty relaxed and energized.
It's really nice to be outside.
For my heart rate, it meant that variability went up, which is good, because stress usually does the opposite.
For instance, when I was getting a story ready to publish, it felt like a pit in my stomach, and my heart rate was still.
So are some of the traps of stress of our own making?
Yes, in a sense.
Some are, and some are not.
If you work in an incredibly stressful environment because your supervisors are nasty, and you have deadlines, and you have relatively limited control over your work experience but lots of demands, those things aren't really not of your own making.
And it's generally much more beneficial and more effective to change the environment if it's at all possible.
If changing environments or jobs isn't an option, then research suggests reframing your experience.
Or even relaxation exercises might help reduce the impact of chronic stress.
It was reassuring to know my heart was resilient to the challenges of my work week, or perhaps my workout balance stopped my stress.
You could argue the heart rate variability is a measure of resilience.
It's a measure of the flexibility of the cardiovascular system to respond to a challenge, and that is what resilience is.
From an evolutionary perspective, having higher levels of heart rate variability gives you more room to raise or lower your heart rate in response to a challenge that you might experience.
Relaxing a little bit more today.
I don't have a pressing deadline.
Hopefully no breaking news.
There are many ways to improve our resilience to stress.
Science shows that mindfulness exercises like yoga and meditation can help.
Sleep is important.
Also, consider hitting the gym.
Increasing your cardio-respiratory fitness is associated with an increase in heart rate variability.
As a cardiology colleague of mine used to say, the heart is happiest when it dances.