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Impact of a Workplace Stress Reduction Program on Blood Pressure and Emotional Health in Hypertensive Employees

Rollin McCraty, Ph.D., Mike Atkinson, and Dana Tomasino, B.A.

Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 2003; 9(3): 355-369.

For a PDF version of the complete paper, click here.

Abstract

Objectives: This study examined the impact of a workplace-based stress management program on blood pressure (BP), emotional health, and workplace-related measures in hypertensive employees of a global information technology company.

Design: Thirty-eight (38) employees with hypertension were randomly assigned to a treatment group that received the stress-reduction intervention or a waiting control group that received no intervention during the study period. The treatment group participated in a 16-hour program, which included instruction in positive emotion refocusing and emotional restructuring techniques intended to reduce sympathetic nervous system arousal, stress, and negative affect, increase positive affect, and improve performance. Learning and practice of the techniques was enhanced by heart rate variability feedback, which helped participants learn to self-generate physiological coherence, a beneficial physiologic mode associated with increased heart rhythm coherence, physiologic entrainment, parasympathetic activity, and vascular resonance. BP, emotional health, and workplace-related measures were assessed before and 3 months after the program.

Results: Three months post-intervention, the treatment group exhibited a mean adjusted reduction of 10.6 mm Hg in systolic BP and of 6.3 mm Hg in diastolic BP. The reduction in systolic BP was significant in relation to the control group. The treatment group also demonstrated improvements in emotional health, including significant reductions in stress symptoms, depression, and global psychological distress and significant increases in peacefulness and positive outlook. Reduced systolic BP was correlated with reduced stress symptoms. Furthermore, the trained employees demonstrated significant increases in the work-related scales of workplace satisfaction and value of contribution.

Conclusions: Results suggest that a brief workplace stress management intervention can produce clinically significant reductions in BP and improve emotional health among hypertensive employees. Implications are that such interventions may produce a healthier and more productive workforce, enhancing performance and reducing losses to the organization resulting from cognitive decline, illness, and premature mortality.