Earning a living doesn't need to cost you your health. There are plenty of things you can do to make sure you stay healthy and happy at work.
While there's no denying that work can cause stress, aches and pains, it doesn't have to be a negative experience. There are plenty of changes you can make that can help make your work life happier, healthier and more productive.
Don't ignore stressThere's no denying that work can be stressful, but sometimes it's the way we think, rather than situations themselves that leave us feeling overwhelmed.
A job that seems too difficult or demanding might be more manageable if you let go of certain beliefs, such as the notion that you should never make mistakes, or that everyone in your workplace needs to approve of you all time. There are also some great online resources that can help you learn about stress – and the role your thinking style can play in exacerbating it.
Also, if you feel overwhelmed at work, you might talk to your supervisor or look at your work style.
As well, it can help to:
- Create boundaries between work and personal time. Try not to take work home with you, check your emails outside work hours, or think about work after you knock off.
- Stay connected with family and friends when you're not working.
- Try to say no to extra work.
- Schedule regular breaks at work – no matter how busy you are.
- Get regular exercise.
- Spend time every day doing things just for you: i.e. regularly do a hobby or activity you enjoy, or catch up with friends.
- Manage irrational or negative thoughts such as "I have to be responsible for everything": i.e. write down counterproductive thoughts and challenge them with positive or more realistic ones. Alternatively, seek advice on cognitive behaviour therapy or rational thinking skills training.
- Research and employ stress-relief strategies, such as relaxation and meditation.
- Avoid relying on drinking or using drugs to help you cope.
Don't sit all dayWhen it comes to our work, many of us spend our days sitting on our bottoms. This doesn't mean we're lazy, but it could mean you're shortening your lifespan.
A growing body of research shows that sitting for hours of your day might shorten your life, even if you're getting the recommended amounts of daily exercise. That's because muscles need to contract for some important processes in the body to occur and long periods being still mean this doesn't happen enough. This affects our body's processing of fats and sugars in ways that increase our risk of heart disease and diabetes.
But if you break up your sitting time throughout the day, regardless of the total time you spend in your chair, you might go some way to help counteract the problem. Why not try to:
- stand every time you make a phone call (or use a mobile, cordless handset or headset so you can move around even more).
- move your rubbish bin/printer/filing cabinet further away from your desk so you need to get off your chair to get to them.
- take the stairs instead of the lifts between floors.
- walk to a colleague's office or desk to talk to them instead of sending an email.
- get up to move around for few minutes or so every hour.
When you sit, sit properlyIf your job sees you stuck in a chair, make sure your seating arrangement is ergonomic. When using a computer:
- keep your feet flat on the floor (or use a footstool if needs be)
- use an ergonomically-designed chair to support your lower back
- position your keyboard so your forearms are parallel to the floor and allow your elbows to rest comfortably by your side.
- have your computer monitor at eye level, use your whole arm, not just your wrist, when using a mouse.
Avoid overworked musclesWhether your job sees you tied to a computer, chopping food or digging ditches, repetitive movements or sustained postures can cause muscle imbalances. One muscle is overworked and becomes tight, while the opposing muscle is unused and remains slack. This not only leads to aches and pains, it can also lead to joints being improperly supported, increasing your risk of injury.
Over time, the overworked muscle becomes even tighter and more fatigued, while the opposing muscle weakens and no longer supports the joint effectively, increasing your risk of injury.
"With someone seated all day, their hips are constantly in a shortened position so it means the muscles in and around the hip joint and lower back become tight, and the buttock and stomach muscles become weak," says Ashley Gardner, exercise physiologist and director of Pace Exercise Physiology in Victoria.
Repetitive manual labour, such as digging, chopping vegetables, carting bricks or even just sitting for long periods, can also cause muscle imbalances.
Chronic postural problems set in when the sustained, poor posture becomes the new 'norm' and you no longer realise you're carrying yourself incorrectly.
The best solution to these problems is to break the cycle of repetition.
- Alternate your activities – If you are working on a computer, for example, break it up with phone calls. If you are digging, stop for one minute and simply bend backwards.
- Stretch – Whatever sustained position you are in, think of a logical opposite movement. You don't need complex stretching routines; if you are doing the stretch right, it will feel good.
- Take regular breaks – Every 15 to 20 minutes break for two to three minutes and aim for a few 20 minute breaks throughout the day.
Look after your eyesLooking at a computer screen, reading, or doing other close-up work can increase your risk of short-sightedness, especially when you are young. Any task that minimises the "work" your eyes have to do to focus on your screen could be helpful. This may include:
- Enlarging the display on your computer screen through the software you are using.
- Getting glasses that magnify things slightly when you are doing extended close-up work.
- adjusting the screen display so the contrast is high and the brightness feels comfortable.
- having lighting that does not produce glare on the screen.
- giving your eyes regular rests from looking at the screen (The Optometrists Association of Australia recommends you do this for five to ten minutes every one to two hours of computer use. It's a good time to make phone calls or do other tasks.)
This can also help prevent dry eyes. Concentrating on a visual task for any length of time makes us blink less, reducing the supply of moisture to our eyes. "If you look away, you'll naturally blink."
Also make sure you have eye assessments every two years, if you're over 50, your checks should be annual.
If you work in manual labour, construction, mining or other outdoor occupations, the most common eye injuries are foreign bodies in the eye and being hit by objects. Naturally, the best prevention is protective eyewear, such as goggles and glasses.