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Intervention Can Cut Job Stress While Protecting the Heart

ess perception and bodily stress-related symptoms.

Researchers also tested the autonomic nervous system (ANS), which is a regulatory component of the nervous system which controls our internal organs, including heart rate and blood vessels to help us adapt to changes in the environment. Importantly, the ANS adjusts and modifies the internal bodily functions in response to stress.

Researchers evaluated the ANS by using a single lead electrocardiogram (ECG). This is a scaled down version of the usual multiple lead ECG, which is a common clinical test used to determine if the heart rate and rhythm are normal or if heart damage has occurred. Subjects were first monitored while lying down and then again while standing. Researchers recorded blood pressure while the subjects were in both positions.

At baseline, the workers had significantly higher stress and tiredness scores than controls, averaging 5.20 versus 2.94 for stress and 5.28 versus 3.27 for tiredness. Workers also reported more stress-related symptoms such as difficult sleep, pounding of the heart or gastrointestinal problems.

Compared with controls, the stressed workers had altered values in an ECG measurement which assessed the low frequency component of the "RR interval variability," which assesses nervous system regulation of heart rate. So, as expected, workers facing layoffs were feeling more stress and their heart rhythm was showing signs of that 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," Pagani said.

After baseline assessment, the workers were offered the opportunity to participate in weekly, one-hour stress management sessions during lunch breaks or in a passive program that offered articles and monthly e-mails on stress reduction techniques.

Participants in the passive pr
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