Is Your Job Killing You?

The average American man works 8.73 hours per day. If you feel like you need 87 hours in a day just to meet all of your deadlines, then you have bigger problems than a full inbox: You’re setting yourself up for heart disease, finds a new study in The Lancet.

The study looked at workers under “job strain.” That’s just a fancy way of saying you 1) have piles of work to do, and 2) feel like you have zero control over your workload, your promotion chances, or the brain-numbing assignments your boss slaps on your desk.

The findings: Men experiencing job strain have a 29 percent greater chance of developing heart disease than men without these demands. Even guys who had very high workloads were in the clear as long as they felt like they had some control over their fate.

Strain leads to stress, which increases your blood pressure—the number-one risk for heart disease—and could lead to a long list of other heart-damaging side effects, researchers explain.

Are you strained at work? Answer these two questions:

  • Do you feel constantly overloaded?
  • Do you feel like there’s nothing you can do about it?

If you answered yes to both, you have job strain. Luckily, we've uncovered 15 simple ways to reduce your stress levels, both at work and at home. Here's how to ease your strain.

1. Sweat—A Lot!
Even if you can’t control your workload, you can beat the heart-damaging effects of stress with exercise. A University of Missouri at Columbia study found that 33 minutes of high-intensity exercise helps lower stress levels more than working out at a moderate pace. What's more, the benefits last as long as 90 minutes afterward. For a muscle-building, fat-torching, stress-shedding workout, check out Speed Shred from Men’s Health DeltaFIT. The 18 workouts in the 8-DVD series are all around 30 minutes, so you can easily fit them into your life—morning, noon, or night!

2. Take Your Calls Standing Up
Here's what happens when you flick on your computer: "Your breathing rate goes up 30 percent, your blinking rate goes way down, and you tend to tighten your arms and shoulders without knowing it," says Erik Peper, Ph.D., of the Institute for Holistic Healing at San Francisco State University. Your remedy: Change your body position every half hour or so. Simply standing while talking on the phone can improve bloodflow and ease muscle strain. You also might want to ask for, or jerry-rig, a standup desk—find out how Your Office Chair Is Killing You.)

3. Visit Cracked.com
Each hour, spend a minute perusing a funny blog. Periodic breaks help you process and absorb new information, increasing your efficiency, says Cleveland Clinic psychologist Michael McKee, Ph.D. During your hiatus, take 10-second breaths—inhale 4 seconds, exhale 6—to bolster your heart's ability to recover from stress.

4. Enforce the 3-Second Rule
The average working professional spends roughly 23 percent of his workday on email and glances at his inbox about 36 times an hour, finds a study from the University of Glasgow. It takes you an average of 64 seconds to return to a task once you’ve stopped to read a new email, according to another study from Loughborough University. Allow yourself no more than 3 seconds to decide whether a message is worthy of your immediate attention, says John Grohol, Psy.D.

5. Put a Green Dot on Your Phone
This is your secret reminder to take one deep breath before you answer a call, says Susan Siegel, of the Program on Integrative Medicine at the University of North Carolina school of medicine. Not only will you feel better, but you'll sound more confident.

6. Go to Starbucks—with Your Coworkers
Researchers at the University of Bristol in England discovered that when stressed-out men consumed caffeine by themselves, they remained nervous and jittery. But when anxious men caffeine-loaded as part of a group, their feelings of stress subsided.

7. Play Pandora at Work
A study in Nature Neuroscience found that listening to favorite tunes or anticipating a certain point in a song can cause a pleasurable flood of dopamine. Listen to a few songs in a row several times a day.

8. Try the Office Chair Workout
An Australian study published last month found that just 15 minutes of yoga—practiced right from an office chair—can reduce stress. Got a chair? Sitting in it right now? Great. Do this 2-minute yoga routine at your desk.

9. Be Fashionably Late to Happy Hour
If you’re looking forward to unwinding after a grueling work week with a cold brew, hold off on happy hour for 30 minutes: Drinking while stressed out actually prolongs your anxiety—even when you limit yourself to two—according to a study at the University of Chicago. The easy fix: Tell the crew you need to run errands before hitting the bar. Then take a quick walk or browse a bookstore.

10. Grab Your Ears
Tug your lobes (lightly) and move them in circles in opposite directions for a count of 10, advises massage therapist Elizabeth Cornell. The motion moves the tentorium membrane in your head, which can relieve stress. You'll also be in fighting shape for charades.

FIX IT WITH FOOD: Check out our list of the 40 Foods with Superpowers—foods that, even in moderation, can strengthen your heart, fortify your bones, and boost your metabolism so you can lose weight more quickly.

11. Take the Scenic Route
If it doesn’t add much time to your commute, drive on roads with more trees and grass—natural scenes decrease feelings of anger and frustration on the road, according to a study in the journal Environment and Behavior. Not an option? Put on your favorite band’s new album. Drivers who faced frustrating and irritating congestion felt less stressed when listening to music they enjoyed, according to a study in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

12. Put a Hole in a Tennis Ball and Squeeze
Let the tension build up in your hand and the rest of your body, then release. This increases relaxation, says Allen Elkin, Ph.D., director of the Stress Management and Counseling Center in New York City. Tennis balls are those yellowy things people hit around in the '70s and '80s.

13. Hold Your Tongue
When an annoying colleague fills your door frame, tell yourself, I choose to be calm, says Siegel. Ah, now it's a choice, and you choose to be master and commander of the ship.

14. Make a Schedule
If the boss suddenly dumps a big project on you, don't say any variation of, "I'm not sure I have time for this." Instead, present him with a schedule outlining when things can be done. What was overwhelming is now under control and open to negotiation, says James Blumenthal, Ph.D., a psychologist at Duke University.

15. Pop This Pill
Frazzled medical students fed an omega-3 supplement for 12 weeks saw a 20 percent drop in stress compared to their placebo-taking peers, Ohio State University research shows.

Do you feel your blood pressure going down already? Great! Now get back to work.

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Additional writing and research by Steve Calechman, Kate Dailey, Paige Greenfield, Cindy Kuzma, Eddie Robbins, Amy Rushlow, and Denny Watkins

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