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Is Your Office Killing You?

Posted by Confessions of the Professions in Articles

Leah Kaminsky


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The short answer is yes, your office is killing you, and in a myriad of ways. How’s that for a pick me up? The good news is, there are many easy strategies for dramatically improving the health and safety of your office space, many of which require very little effort at all. Let’s take a look at key hazards and top fixes for making things right.

Problem #1: Overwork and Stress

As a whole, Americans work more than many other industrial countries, and the hours have only increased in the recession as workforces are trimmed. Health problems associated with stress range from heart disease to diabetes, asthma and accelerated aging, not to mention the many damaging psychological effects.

How to cope?

  1. Listen to classical music. Studies have shown that the right classical music can have a calming effect on listeners. Feel free to swap classical for a preferred genre, as long as it’s calm and helps you concentrate. White noise can also prove helpful—just make sure to bring your headphones so you don’t stress out the rest of your office.
  2. Meditate. While meditating after work can be a useful exercise, doing so during work breaks can help you refresh for further upcoming tasks. Start with a few subtle breathing exercises to reorient your body and mind away from your laundry list of tasks. Engage your senses, and allow yourself a few minutes to drift away.
  3. Get a plant.Whether you prefer a colorful lily or a stick of bamboo, plants can add a much needed breath of fresh air to an office space. Herbs can be highly effective, too, especially those you might recognize from teas, like chamomile and lavender.

Problem #2: Non-Ergonomic Workspaces

The average office isn’t set up for human beings so much as it is for short term, short sighted, bottom line savings. Unfortunately, this means back problems and repetitive stress injuries (RSIs) galore for workers across the nation. Even sitting can dramatically lower your lifespan, interfering with your ability to breakdown fat and lowering the effectiveness of insulin.

What to do?

  1. Make your own standing desk. Standing desks that can be raised and lowered are ideal but expensive. You can easily make your own just by stacking a smaller, lightweight desk onto a larger, sturdier desk, and anchoring it solidly down. You could also put your laptop and/or monitor on a pair of milk crates and coffee-table books.
  2. Invest in ergonomic products. From ergonomic keyboards to ergonomic mice, keypads and wrist rests, ergonomic products dramatically reduce the risk of long term stress injuries, saving you from surgery and your company from workers compensation claims. Advocate for this upfront investment for long term health and savings.
  3. Take walking, standing and stretching breaks.For that matter, look for excuses to walk up stairs, and take the long route to the bathroom and car. You need to rest your mind every 45 minutes or so anyway, and you might as well sneak in a good stretch or walk to get those muscles moving.

Problem #3: Fluorescent Lighting

Fluorescent lighting may be bright, but it also feels highly artificial, and it often comes with a buzzing that’s likely to give you a headache. What’s more, all of that bright light may be messing with your circadian rhythm and sleep cycle, as fluorescent lighting gives off only a small fraction of the spectrum found in sunlight. It can also increase rates of eyestrain, migraine and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

Steps to take:

  1. Ask your boss for a change. There are many cost-effective and energy saving alternatives to fluorescent. Lobby your boss for energy efficient LED lighting or simply for full-spectrum CFLs.
  2. Use a light box. Sitting in front of a full spectrum light box, which mimics outdoor light, for at least 30 minutes every morning can increase energy, motivation and feelings of contentment.
  3. Add an incandescent bulb to your desktop.Incandescent light bulbs produce a broader spectrum, much closer to that of the sun. A lamp on your desk can make your workspace feel much homier and counteract that harsh fluorescent glow.

In Short

Your office as it is may be killing you, but there’s much you can do to make it a safe and productive space. Identify your risks, talk to your boss, and start hacking your office for health and safety.

Leah Kaminsky is a writer and the founder of Just Start Storytelling. You can follow Leah’s scintillating thoughts at @JustStartApps.

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