According to a recent study, those who feel discriminated against at work are far more likely to experience high blood pressure.
The results are consistent with earlier studies in which researchers found that even a small degree of employment discrimination can have an adverse effect on one’s physical and emotional well-being.
According to experts, employment discrimination must be reduced through the implementation of regulatory changes and cultural reforms.
Your blood pressure may increase if you feel discriminated against at work, and not only metaphorically.
Analysing the research’s data
The researchers looked at information from the Midlife in the United States Study (MIDUS) on American adults who had a range of educational backgrounds and occupations for this study. They examined information on 1,246 persons who were tracked from the study’s beginning in 2004 to its halfway point in 2006 without exhibiting signs of high blood pressure. About half of those examined were women and most were white.
They mainly fell into the following age groups:
- not older than 45
- aged 46 to 55
- 56 or more
According to a study published this week in the Journal of the American Heart Association, people who report experiencing high levels of workplace discrimination were 54% more likely to acquire high blood pressure than those who reported experiencing low levels of such discrimination.
To estimate the prevalence of employment discrimination, researchers examined survey responses from 1,246 persons in the US who did not self-report having high blood pressure, often known as hypertension, at the start of the study.
Most of the participants were Caucasian, and they represented a variety of professions and educational levels. There were roughly equal numbers of males and women. Following that, participants were monitored for about 8 years.
A validated questionnaire was used to measure perceived workplace discrimination. Participants were questioned about their work experiences, including whether they felt treated unfairly, whether they felt monitored or ignored more than others, whether job promotions were appropriately rewarded, and how frequently they were exposed to racial, sexual, or ethnic discrimination or jokes.
Every inquiry received a score between 1 (never) and 5 (at least once each week). Participants were split into three groups based on their total scores: low, middle, or strong discrimination.
After the trial, they discovered that 319 participants had high blood pressure after around eight years of the follow-up period.
People with “low workplace discrimination scores” were 22% less likely to report high blood pressure than those with “intermediate workplace discrimination exposure scores.”
Additionally, in comparison to individuals who had reported low workplace discrimination scores, those with high workplace discrimination exposure ratings were 54% more likely to report high blood pressure readings during the follow-up research period.
Dr. Jian Li, M.D., Ph.D., the lead study author and professor of work and health at the University of California, Los Angeles’ Fielding School of Public Health and School of Nursing, told Healthline that he initially predicted there would be a connection between high blood pressure and workplace discrimination before beginning this project.
He declared that he was “excited to see the association” between discrimination and such a significant increase in blood pressure.
The health effects of discrimination
In a sense, experts say, these results are not surprising because prior research has demonstrated that racism and prejudice can have major effects on both physical and mental health.
It appeared that employment discrimination, even at low levels, had an impact. When compared to individuals with low workplace discrimination ratings, those with intermediate values were still 22% more likely to report having high blood pressure.
Anjali Gowda Ferguson, PhD, a certified clinical psychologist, claimed that discrimination has “profound health impacts that are a result of an exacerbated stress response.”
“People can exhibit trauma symptoms, which essentially put the body in the fight-or-flight position. The physical health of people starts to suffer as a result of these protracted feelings of anxiety”.
Senior lecturer in cognitive science at Troy, New York’s Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Alicia Walf, PhD, concurred. Discrimination, according to her, is a “chronic psychosocial stressor” that demands attention.
Waif said that because people are discriminated against in settings other than the workplace, “the effects shown in this study of an increased risk of developing high blood pressure in individuals who reported that they faced discrimination at work has far-reaching consequences.” In addition, high blood pressure is an important indicator since it is associated with a higher risk of diseases other than cardiovascular disease, like immunological and metabolic problems.”
She continued, “I believe that this is an important first study examining the relationships between workplace discrimination and this one signal of the detrimental effects on health, such as high blood pressure. “I hope this inspires future research finding out if there are individual differences based on factors, like age and the type of discrimination faced,” the author says.
Manage discrimination leading to high blood pressure
What should you do if discrimination at work causes your blood pressure to rise or causes other changes to your cardiovascular health?
Li suggested that workers could use self-regulated stress reduction techniques like mindfulness exercises. According to him, studies show that “mindfulness-based stress reduction could lower blood pressure.”
Albert noted that while some people have better coping techniques than others when it comes to managing the effects of workplace discrimination on blood pressure, these measures can be beneficial for the individual.
“Those who have higher coping skills will have better biological responses, meaning they are less likely to develop high blood pressure and other forms of cardiovascular disease,” she said.
Albert emphasised that this places a heavy burden on the individual.
Sincerity be damned, I’ve always had a problem with coping since it tends to focus on the individual rather than the systems and structural elements. Both are necessary, she noted. Interventions that deal with systemic prejudice are necessary, as are interventions that support people as they adjust to having fewer biological effects.
Most adversely affected by discrimination at work
Li responded that a wide spectrum of groups are affected and at danger for the detrimental effects of workplace discrimination.
A person may be the subject of discrimination due to a variety of reasons, including their color, age, gender, sexual orientation, religion, national origin, presence of a certain health condition, or outward appearance.
One noted weakness of the new study is that non-white people with lower levels of education who hold positions where they have less power over their workplaces tended to opt out of the follow-up questioning sessions. Future research should, according to Li, fill some of these gaps.
Albert pointed out that it is significant to take into account the fact that the majority of the participants in this study self-identified as white.
It isn’t difficult to imagine that those same groups would also experience some of the worst cases of discrimination, and, as a result, these detrimental effects on cardiovascular health, she said, given the larger structural barriers the most vulnerable members of our society face because of their race and ethnicity, their sex and gender identity, and their sexual orientation, to name a few examples.
There isn’t a lot of information available on this as of yet, she claimed. She cited studies on the effects of discrimination on the cardiovascular health of Black women that she had conducted and presented.
According to Albert, there is a 30–50% higher risk of coronary heart disease, which is what causes heart attacks, as a result of discrimination.
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