When you think of dangerous jobs, you probably think of commercial fishing or logging, not composing emails in a cubicle. But office jobs can take a toll on your health, especially if you’ve adopted unhealthy habits at work. Want to feel more energized and vibrant and decrease your odds of getting a serious illness? Read on to discover which office habits are the worst ones for your health and learn how to change them.
Break up with these unhealthy office habits
What you do or don’t do at the office can make or break your health. Focus on changing these common damaging behaviors.
Fueling yourself on coffee alone
If your idea of a hearty breakfast is guzzling coffee on an empty stomach, it may be time to rethink this habit. Drinking coffee without food can wreak havoc on your digestive system and may disrupt your body’s release of the stress hormone cortisol.
Do you regularly have indigestion or heartburn or feel jittery or anxious in the morning? Try eating breakfast before sipping your morning cup of joe. For the most sustained energy, opt for a breakfast rich in protein, vegetables, and healthy fats, such as an omelet or toast with hummus, spinach, and avocado.
You can still enjoy your beloved cup of coffee. Research suggests it even offers health benefits. But it may be optimal to wait a few hours after waking to get your caffeine fix. Drinking coffee between 9:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. may be best to help your body’s stress support system and maximize coffee’s ability to make you feel alert according to experts in chronopharmacology, which is the study of how drugs interact with our natural rhythms.
Sitting for long periods without getting up
We’ve got bad news that you don’t want to sit down for. All that time you spend in your office chair can lead to weight gain, double your risk for diabetes, and significantly increase your chance of getting heart disease or dying early of any cause. Sadly, your morning run or evening CrossFit workout won’t reverse the risk.
Plus, your sedentary job may cause nagging aches and pains or more serious musculoskeletal pain. According to a Penn State study, sitting for four hours in a row exerts enough pressure to shorten the discs in the lower back. But here’s the good news: When participants stood and stretched every 15 minutes, their spinal discs remained healthy.
Sixty-two percent of workers routinely have work-related neck pain, 38 percent end the day with stressed-out eyes, and 38 percent have pain in their hands. These complaints may all be prevented by integrating short bouts of physical activity into the workday. Plus, getting up and walking for just two minutes frequently throughout the day may increase longevity, according to one study.
Stressing about work demands
Worried about work? You’re not alone. Job pressures and fears are a leading cause of stress for most people according to multiple studies. Sixty-six percent of workers feel somewhat or very dissatisfied with the levels of on-the-job stress they experience. Job stress may be common, but don’t ignore it. Prolonged stress at work can lead to serious health problems.
First, assess whether your stress is acute or chronic. Acute stress is short term. You may need to ramp up your work hours to complete a big project or prepare for a presentation. Acute stress isn’t benign. You may experience irritability, anxiety, insomnia, headaches, back pain, jaw pain, stomach problems, and other symptoms. But short-term stress usually doesn’t cause long-term damage to your health. It may even feel exciting.
Chronic stress is more hazardous. Perhaps you feel trapped in a miserable situation such as a high-pressure environment where you’re constantly overwhelmed or in a toxic workplace where colleagues engage in mean gossip. Chronic work stress is known to contribute to serious mental and physical illnesses, including depression, heart attacks, strokes, and immune deficiencies. The worst part? It may be hard to recognize chronic stress because it’s gone on for a long time and feels normal.
If you’re routinely stressed out at work, commit to making some changes:
- Step up your self-care routine. Get enough sleep, exercise, eat healthy meals, and adopt a stress-relieving lunch-time ritual, such as going for a walk.
- Talk to your manager about making your work demands more manageable.
- Learn how to set healthy boundaries at work.
- If your job isn’t a good fit, look for a new one.
You scroll through emails while you polish off a panini. You hardly taste the food, and an hour later, you don’t remember whether you ate at all. Sound familiar? In one survey, 28 percent of workers said they seldom, if ever, take a break to eat lunch and 39 percent said they routinely eat at their desks. That’s a problem because research suggests how you eat is as important as what you eat.
You may be able to lose weight and keep it off by learning to pay attention when you eat, according to multiple studies. Eating mindfully may also help you enjoy your lunch break and feel more refreshed and productive when you return to work.
Use these strategies to eat more mindfully at the office:
- Pay attention to your body’s cues and eat when you’re hungry.
- Put your work away and leave your desk if possible.
- Sit down, chew every bite thoroughly, and pay attention to the smell, taste, and texture of your food. Don’t distract yourself with a book, magazine, or screen.
Taking work home with you
Do you constantly check work emails or obsess about work at home? You may be putting your health and wellbeing at risk.
Up to 70 percent of employees check email at home, according to one survey. But workers who let work creep into their personal lives report higher levels of exhaustion. People who ruminate over work-related stress at home suffer from insomnia more frequently than those who don’t. And working long hours and bringing stress home may even translate to worse health and functioning during old age, according to a study.
Ready to draw a stronger boundary between work and home? Try these steps.
- Turn on an automated out-of-office reply stating when you’ll be at work to respond to emails.
- Turn off email notifications on your phone and computer, and close your email if you use your work computer after hours.
- Before you leave the office, write down what you need to do the next day so you don’t focus on it at home.
Not taking vacation days
Fifty-two percent of American workers have unused vacation days at the end of the year. That’s a problem because vacations are not only enjoyable, they’re important for good health. In the Framingham Heart Study, men who skipped vacations were 30 percent more likely to have heart attacks. And longer vacations may be even better than shorter ones. Men who took annual vacations lasting three weeks or longer were 37 percent less likely to die from any cause than those who took shorter vacations, according to a 40-year study of 12,000 middle-aged men.
Here’s how to maximize the health benefits of time off.
- Schedule your vacation several months in advance. Anticipating and planning a vacation makes people even happier than taking one.
- Arrange for someone to cover for you so you don’t return to piles of work.
- Turn on an automated out-of-office reply stating when you’ll be back at work to respond to emails.
- Completely unplug while you’re away. Don’t check emails or answer work calls.
Unless you work in a spa you may never transform your workplace into a health retreat. But by ditching your unhealthy work habits, you can improve your health and wellbeing and may boost your creativity and productivity in the process.