Recent findings by Harvard researchers in the Women’s Health Study (which involved more than 17,000 female health professionals) indicate that women whose work is highly stressful are at a 40 percent increased risk of developing heart disease compared to their less-stressed colleagues. The study also showed that women who worry about job loss are more likely to have high blood pressure, unhealthy cholesterol levels and be obese.

More studies back this up. A large study in Denmark found a higher risk for heart disease among women aged 51 and older who were under greater work pressure. Another study in Beijing found that women with job strain had increased thickness of the carotid artery—a sign of cardiovascular disease.

The effects of stress, and especially chronic stress, are far-reaching. The body is designed to respond to stress by increasing blood pressure, speeding heart rate, quickening breathing, and slowing digestion. Did you know that stress even alters the microbial balance in the digestive tract? Chronic stress has these same effects, but over a longer time period. The result? Chronic disease.

There are some aspects about work-related stress that cannot be changed. We all know that. How we handle the stress is another story. Stress-reducing therapies such as relaxation techniques, meditation, or yoga can be helpful. Regular exercise is another stress reducer, and is also good for the heart. Reducing stress outside of work can also help lessen the stress load.