We spend about eight hours a day at our jobs, if we’re lucky. These days, most people would welcome an eight-hour day. Once you consider that you’re at work for at least eight, sleeping for at least five, commuting for at least one, that’s over half the day gone and you haven’t even exercised yet!
Most of us sit for a good part of the workday. If we’re not sitting, we’re standing without much thought to posture. Sitting for more than an hour at a time has a big impact on the body. The hips tighten, creating a muscular chain reaction in your back, and if you are typing for extended periods of time you might be damaging your wrists and hands, as well as straining your eyes. Standing all day leads to foot and back pain and can tighten up your hamstrings. Again if we are not mindfully aware of our shrinking hamstrings, we can end up with painful chronic back conditions
Add to this that fact that many of us don’t eat well while at work. We either don’t have healthy options available or we make poor choices. The modern-day work load can be heavy, repetitive and not conducive to pausing, and with this work load comes “reactive eating.” Often on auto-pilot, we reach for sugary and highly salted processed foods instead of fresh food, adding to the feeling of low-energy and fatigue that comes from not taking breaks.
All these unconscious habits can add up to chronic stress – stress that builds up over time. Chronic stress is one of the leading causes of heart disease. We get stressed without ever taking the time to de-stress, creating a prime environment for plaque to build up in the arteries. This makes it harder for blood to flow freely through the system, making the heart work harder to pump the blood through the system.
If you’re not one of the lucky individuals that has a worksite wellness program, there are some things you can do on your own:
Be mindful of your stress level – use some kind of marker, maybe an alarm on your watch that will remind you to check in on your stress level. If you are feeling overly stressed, ask yourself what you can do in the moment to release some of the stress. The easiest and fastest way to de-stress is by taking a few mindful breaths.
Take time for lunch – This means away from your work area and phone, so you have time to relax and enjoy it.
Make healthy food choices during the day – Institute and office fruit bowl, and keep nuts or other high protein snacks at your desk to avoid the mid-day low blood-sugar brain drain.
Take time to stretch – Get up and walk at least once an hour. Take a forward bend, by inhaling, reaching your arms up in the air, bending at the waist, exhale fully, and letting your arms and head be heavy for a moment before slowly curling up. Practice this energizing stretch once per hour.
Take a screen break – Moving your body and stepping away from the computer is critical to staying awake and keeping your mind and body flexible.
Flex your schedule and get out of the office for lunch once or twice a week – Many studios offer yoga classes at lunchtime. Enjoy a walk or a run. Pair up your work out with your job and you’ll create a great health habit.
Now that we’ve highlighted all the obstacles to maintaining health while at work, let’s focus on what you can do. Check into organizations dedicated to bringing health into the workplace. Non-profits like WELCOA, The Wellness Council of America, or the U.S. Workplace Wellness Alliance provide resources to use in the workplace, and can help you convince your employer to embrace wellness. When looking at what employees’ value in an employer, things like onsite wellness services (gym, massage, wellness seminars, yoga) rank high. Many employers have figured out creative ways to make wellness part of the organizational culture. As an employer, worksite wellness services can be one of the most cost-effective ways to retain employees. Healthy employees are happier, are more productive, creative and guess what? They don’t call in sick as much. And that saves employers money.
Work stress is part of life, but you can avoid chronic stress from affecting your health by being mindful of the subtle effects of stress. Take control of your health at work by being creative and persistent. Your health needs to come first in order for you to maintain your productivity at work. Your employer, your family, but most importantly you will see and feel the benefits.
Check our our worksheet, Breathe Your way to Happiness for more on stress reduction in the work place.
If you’re a caregiver, take a look at our information on compassion fatigue.
One of our favorite books, The Power of Full Engagement has an excellent plan for staying mindful and productive at work and at home
We wish you 20 minutes of mindfulness each day!
By contributing writer, Karen Fabian, Certified Baptiste Yoga teacher, founder, barebonesyoga.com.