Sick at work

Mon, 07/18/2005 - 00:00
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Sick lately? It might be stress. Some doctors say that as many as nine of ten visits to the doctor could be stress-related, with the ailments including everything from allergies and asthma to herpes and heart disease.

Now, if that little bit of news isn't stressing enough, there are also those angst-inducing traffic jams and long lines, jerky bosses and inept office co-workers, too much to do and too little time to do it.

Stress has emerged as one of the most serious health issues of the 21st century. It makes people around the world vulnerable to many diseases, according to a recent report released by the International Labor Organization (ILO).

"The kind of tense and stressful working environment wjocj seems to have become accepted as natural will have to be addressed urgently if the changes through which the world is moving are not to become overwhelming," said the United Nations labor agency.

More and more companies all over the globe are feeling the financial costs of stress, through compensation claims in the courts. In Japan, for instance, there has been an increasing number of claims for so-called "karoshi" or death from overwork.

In some instances, you cannot control stress. But it's far from a hopeless struggle."The key to controlling stress is to monitor and challenge your negative thinking," says psychologist Richard Blue, a stress management specialist. "When you look for the positive side of what's causing you stress - and usually you can find some positive things about it - you'll see that it's probably not as stressful as you're making it out to be."

To train yourself to think more positively, begin each sentence with "at least" whenever you're stressed out, advises Dr. Blue. Examples: If you work for a jerky boss, remind yourself, "At least I have a job." When you're stressed out because a co-worker has done more than you do, tell yourself, "At least I have accomplished something."

One disease that some health experts equate with overwork and stress is stomach ulcer. "Ulcers are raw, craterlike spots in the stomach or just beyond the stomach in the part of the intestine called the duodenum," explains 'The Doctors Book of Home Remedies.' "Ulcers occur when, for one reason or another, the cells normally lining the stomach or intestine no longer provide protection against the caustic effects of stomach acid. The stomach literally digests itself."

How do you know you have an ulcer? Oftentimes, there's a burning, gnawing or aching pain just below the breastbone. You can begin to suspect ulcers (as opposed to heartburn) if the pain is relieved by eating food but recurs two to three hours after eating a meal. Sometimes, the pain is so strong that it awakens you in the wee hours of the morning.

By the way, only a doctor can tell you for sure whether you have ulcers. And even the best of doctors can't tell you exactly when you're going to have a so-called "flare-up."

One of the best ways to heal your ulcer faster is by getting rid those stressful moments. "Classic studies have presented strong evidence of stress component in ulcer development," says Dr. Steven Fahrion, clinical psychologist and director of the Center for Applied Psychophysiology at the Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas.

Not all researchers agree. But studies suggest that stress increases stomach acid production and decreases blood flow. And if there's anything an ulcer-prone stomach doesn't need, it's more acid.

Apart from their stomachs, office workers should worry about another part of their body -- their ears. Anybody who works in a very noisy office -- say a call center -- might develop tinnitus, or "ringing in the ears." Actually, it's not a disease, and it doesn't cause hearing disorders. It's any kind of swishing, hissing, whirring, ringing, whistling, buzzing or chirping that goes on inside your head.

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