A supportive spouse soothes stress

Sep 26 2005 by Brian Amble Print This Article

Having a supportive spouse to go home to can help lower the negative impact of a stressful day at work on a person's blood pressure, researchers have revealed.

A Canadian study conducted with 216 male and female volunteers over the course of a year monitored the impact of workplace stress and marital cohesion on blood pressure.

"The study found job strain had a significant impact, both clinically and statistically, on blood pressure," said lead author Sheldon Tobe, M.D., assistant professor of medicine at the University of Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

But those in a stressful job who were in a supportive relationship saw their blood pressure fall over the period of the study.

The researchers recruited volunteers aged between 40 and 65 who were employed and living with a significant other for the previous six months and were not receiving medication for high blood pressure.

Their blood pressure was measured at baseline and at one year with an ambulatory blood pressure monitor over 24 hours of a usual workday. At baseline, 34 percent of the group had ambulatory blood pressure of 130/80 mmHg or higher.

Their stress levels at work were assessed using the Job Content Questionnaire, a widely-used test for job strain. Those with job strain were in the lowest twentieth percentile of the key component of high job demands and low decision latitude.

"The key components of job strain are high job demand and low decision latitude," Dr Tobe said.

Marital cohesion was also evaluated: "The amount of support given at home in the relationship is a major definition of marital cohesion," Dr Tobe added.

"Did the partners talk about their daily activities? Did one partner pay attention and sympathise when the significant other had a stressful day? Did the partners spend time together?"

There's a practical use for the information coming from this study, Dr Tobe said. He advised that people who have high job strain and/or low marital cohesion should see their family doctor for a blood pressure check.

If a harmonious relationship has deteriorated, blood pressure also needs to be checked.

"Health practitioners need to be aware that job strain does cause illness. The medical model of healthcare does not include job strain, but stress at work and at home can modify the health of patients."