Is Your Work Making You Ill?

Tips in creating a health-hazard free environment in the workplace.

Article by Dr. Tara Guthrie, Published in Rising Women Magazine Jan/Feb 2005

There is a disease in the workplace, and it is not coming from the idea of work itself. I am sure many of you would agree that “work” can give us a sense of accomplishment and well being: There is always pride taken in a job well done. Why then do so many people dread going to work?

I often find that people who are unhappy with their job have an unhealthy work environment. Their job is literally hurting them, both mentally and physically.  Overworking, poor workstation ergonomics, improper lighting and ventilation, chronic repetitive movements and more, can all contribute to a toxic work environment, leaving people sore, drained and unhappy. Here are some tips to try to improve your mental and physical health in a place where you spend more than half of your waking hours!

First, analyze your desk space.

How is your workstation organized? Is it ergonomically correct?

Improper workspace ergonomics is the most common cause for muscle and joint discomfort and is one of the largest contributors to chronic injury on the job. Talk to your boss about getting an ergonomic assessor in to analyze your workspace.

What is the mood that your desk presents to you? Do you have pictures of loved ones around? Is there a predominant color scheme?

There is truth in the saying “a cluttered desk is the sign of a cluttered mind”.

If you often have enormous piles of paper staring at you in the face, it can be overwhelming and distracting to your present task.  Instead, clear your immediate desk space and replace it with a “To Do” list of everything that needs to be accomplished in the day. Goal setting will give your mind a sense of purpose and allow it to focus on a specific task.

Replace the lost clutter with some nice framed pictures of loved ones. Bring live flowers and bright sunny colors closer to your visual range. Try to avoid overly bland or washed out colors- Your brain picks up unconscious cues from colors and can profoundly affect your mood.

Take a critical look at what you do for the majority of the day, and look for correlation with any aches and pains that you have.

Do you end up typing while cradling a phone to your head with your shoulder? Overusing your mouse?

Bad habits can create muscle and joint pain which will only get worse unless corrected. Simple solutions may be available at low cost, such as switching to a telephone headset, or an ergonomic mouse. If you have any present chronic problems, get them treated before they become so bad that you can’t work.

Do you perform a single repetitive motion all day, or is your job description broken up into many things?

It is healthier on the body to do a number of different tasks throughout the day, versus one repetitive motion. If you can, mix up your job so you aren’t spending more than one hour focusing on one task type. If your job doesn’t let you do this, then take stretch breaks every half an hour or so. This will effectively “reset” your muscles to allow them to handle a long time at one task without becoming injured.

Try this great stretch

Raise your arms over your head, slightly behind you, with your palms to the ceiling.  Open your rib cage, take a deep breath in, and hold for 15 seconds. Doesn’t that feel great?!

Improper lighting, unhealthy lunchroom snacks, and poor ventilation can all cause the feeling of afternoon grogginess- a common cause of work mistakes, poor job function, and - believe it or not - injury.

Get natural light!

We humans are just like other living things, in that we need natural sunlight to regulate our internal clocks, and to help generate important vitamins. In the wintertime especially, it is difficult to get the proper amount of light-The fluorescent lights in the office just don’t cut it!   You can combat this by placing a lamp with a full spectrum light bulb on your desk beside you, or go out at lunch for a walk in the sun. This will also help you to get some needed fresh air if you get headachy in the afternoon from a stuffy office.

Finally, avoid the lunchroom!!!

Resist the temptation to indulge in the ever-present office sweets: those high fat, high sugar snacks will give you an initial buzz, followed be a huge energy crash which can seriously affect your well being. Some great ways to avoid temptation: if you are addicted to salty foods, bring a jar of roasted almonds to work and snack on a few of those every time you are tempted by office food. Almonds have antioxidant properties, and contain those “good fats” that help to lower cholesterol levels. For those of you that crave sweets, bring raisins or dried cranberries to work and keep them beside you.

A healthy work environment can be achieved. All you need to do is listen to your body. Take breaks when it tells you to, get treated when you need it, and try to improve those factors that you can control. You will find that your work will be more productive in the long run- and maybe you will be able to find more enjoyment in a job well done.