As the world continues to reopen, many people are heading back into the office to continue their professions. As we return to our corner offices, staff rooms and cafeterias, it is important to maintain a fit lifestyle and not fall into an unhealthy “cubicle funk.” What we do and how we do it can dictate whether we have the energy and wellness to pursue our other interests after a long day or week of work, or become plagued by avoidable ailments that cause us to waste our time off in recuperation and pain.
Knowing what can go wrong and being ready for it goes a long way toward deterring harmful maladies. Here are the most common office-related ailments and some quick tips for avoiding them.
Don’t be afraid to take five minutes and just “zone out” and clear your mind
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS)
One of the most common and often most debilitating of the workplace woes, CTS is caused by extreme pressure on the median nerve of the hand by irritated tendons or other swelling in the carpal tunnel. It is often the result of constant repetitive motion of the wrist and hands among other factors, and is characterized by numbness and tingling sensations in the hand and fingers, greatly affecting grip strength and flexibility. CTS can be avoided by employing good ergonomics at the desk-site, keeping the wrists parallel to the desk surface and stretching your wrists and hands when resting between tasks.
This is perhaps the most suffered workplace woe and is certainly the most performed surgical procedure in the U.S. Experts state that lower-back pain is the result of increased sedentary positions (a.k.a. sitting). Bad posture and lack of movement also exacerbates stiffness and pain. Working on your posture, investing in the right chair, correct lifting technique (lift with your legs, not with your back), and getting regular exercise can mitigate and prevent pain. The simplest thing that you can do in the office is stand. Just stand up and move around every once in a while.
While we are on the subject of movement and exercise, obesity has become an epidemic in the U.S. amongst office workers. Eating poorly, being sedentary and increased levels of stress can cause rapid weight gain that makes a non-sedentary life even harder. Stay out of the weight-gain snowball effect completely by keeping and maintaining good office habits – such as substituting healthy snacks for sugary, moving multiple times per day (I see a theme), and using your break time effectively (whether to relax or exercise).
Heart disease is usually a direct result of bad health habits coupled with the demands of today’s workday. Long hours, perceived constant stress and less sleep is a potent combination that must be mediated in downtime. Again, getting up from your desk often and taking earned breaks and vacations are great first steps. Practicing mindfulness and engaging in cherished hobbies can lessen feelings of stress.
Not to scare anybody (I did use the “C” word) but experts point out that sitting for hours on end is a leading factor in the increase of global colon cancer prevalence. According to the Journal of Epidemiology, people who work in an office for more than ten years and spend most of their time at a desk have up to a 44% increase in risk of colon cancer. The best way to ward off or lessen your chances of being diagnosed with colon cancer is to combine a good diet with – you guessed it – movement.
This has happened to everyone who has to stare at a screen for an entire day and is hard to avoid. If you’ve ever had to sit back and rub your eyes, you are dealing with eye strain. Staring at a bright screen for hours at a time can lead to blurry vision, dry eyes, watery eyes, a sore neck
and headaches. At its worst, eye strain can cause dizziness, fatigue and nausea. To mitigate this ailment, you should be seated approximately an arms-length away from the monitor. If you cannot do this and still read the screen, increasing the font-size of what you are reading or working on or adjusting the screen brightness can help. Don’t forget to take a break from the screen every now and then (this also goes for mobile phones).
Guess what? The threat of sickness is never going to simply “go away.” Viruses and bacterial infections are here to stay for the long term and must be dealt with quickly and efficiently. Offices, like school classrooms, are havens for sickness transmission. Constant close quarters and tight meeting rooms add to increased infection and common objects hold increasing amounts of bacteria. The dirtiest items in the office are those we use the most and clean the least. I am, of course, speaking of the phone, keyboard, mouse and CPU. When was the last time they were disinfected? A month ago? A year? Make it a habit to disinfect at least monthly and never eat at your desk – find a clean common area instead.
Look, jobs are demanding. We often spend the majority of our daily lives surrounded by four office walls, machinery, cubicle walls, meetings, etc. Time off is hard to come by; but we need to stay healthy in order to make the most of our free time. Good workplace habits can ensure good times after work.
Simple Tips for a Healthier Office Life
- Eat breakfast. Seriously, do it. Don’t survive on just coffee or that much waited-for Starbucks latte. Eating something for breakfast can increase concentration and jump-start your metabolism, providing more energy throughout the day (I mean, you CAN make toast, right?).
- Use the stairs. We all need a little more exercise in the office, and since the destination is the same, why not get it when you can. What? You work on the
18th floor? Well, suck it up, Bucko! After a few days of that climb, you’ll be the fittest person in the bullpen (or at least the sweatiest).
- Take your breaks and do it outdoors. We get workday breaks for a reason. Take them and get some fresh air while you’re at it. There is nothing wrong with taking 15 minutes to relax and ease your mind. Side Note: This includes taking earned vacations. Everyone needs time away from work to recharge and perhaps partake of a poolside piña colada.
- Use the right tools. Create an ergonomically correct workspace. Adjust your monitor position, find the right chair, computer mouse and keyboard. Your back should be supported while seated, your wrists parallel to the desk surface, and make sure to stand up at intervals. Don’t be a Slouchy Sam when you can be an Upright Ike!
- Pack a healthy lunch and hydrate. I know – boring, right? This is where most of us need some serious willpower. All of those fast-food calories (or pizza or Chinese, etc.) plus a sedentary workday equals a future health problem. We must resist! If you must, pick one day a week to treat yourself at lunch and make sure to double your movement that day. Get rid of the open boxes of snacks and sugary drinks. If you need to sip during the day, sip water. Keep a refillable container at your desk. Dehydration will certainly add to a tiring day.
- Put the mobile phone away and limit social media. Nothing is more distracting or can disrupt your train of thought more than staring at your phone or browsing social media, and that doesn’t begin to consider its effect on your mental health. Too much negativity can make for a depressing day and change your outlook on even the simplest of tasks. Avoid it, if possible, or at least limit access with a “phone time” schedule.
- Practice mindfulness. Speaking of mental health, take some time to work on yours. Don’t be afraid to take five minutes and just “zone out” and clear your mind. Close your eyes and concentrate on breathing out the stress. In with the good air, out with the bad. In with the good, out with the bad …
- Believe that all your coworkers are your allies. (Yes, even the back-stabby ones.) For many, this will be the hardest thing to do because we all have that “one” coworker. Maybe they sit kitty-corner from you, staring at three computers, designing whatever all day and when you are minding your business and thinking about what a nice day you are having … bang! Drama. Yes, even those people are your allies. Think positively. Maybe they just need a friend and being with friends is a good way to mitigate stress.
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Daum, K. (2021). 25 ways you can make your life happier in the office. Inc.com. Retrieved from inc.com/kevin-daum/25-ways-you-can-make-your-life-healthier-in-the-office.html
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WebMD. (2021). 10 tips to improve your health at work. WebMD.com. Retrieved from webmd.com/women/features/10-tips-to-improve-your-health-at-work