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10 Ways Your Office Is Harming Your Health

10 Ways Your Office Is Harming Your Health

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Ever feel like the stress at work is killing you? According to science, that might not just be your inner drama queen talking. Whether you're chained to a desk all day or working weird hours, your office environment could be seriously harming your health. A recent study from the Behavioral Science and Policy Association found that common office conditions and stressors are as damaging to your health as secondhand smoke. Yuck! Check out these 10 ways your work environment may be messing with you and ways to keep your office from turning into a death trap. (And start incorporating these Health Tips from 10 Top Corporate Wellness Programs.)

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The Air Conditioning

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Summer seems to necessitate two separate wardrobes: Summer-appropriate wear for the sweltering commute and a stash of sweaters for the arctic tundra our overly-air conditioned offices turn into. Most offices operate off of an antiquated formula that sets the building temperature based off the metabolic rate of a 40-year-old, 154-pound man. Huh? If that doesn't describe you, your body isn't operating at it's optimal temperature and it's costing you. Studies have shown that office workers subjected to chilly cubicles were more likely to come down with an unseasonable cold. Keep your neck and shoulders warm with a fuzzy scarf and if you still can't shake the chill, consider a space heater for your desk.

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Your Male Coworkers

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Finally, a scientific excuse to prefer working with your female coworkers! A new study from Indiana University Bloomington found that women working in male-dominated office environments experienced more social and interpersonal stress at work and higher levels of cortisol (the hormone that can cause blood sugar imbalances, weight gain, and even fertility issues when it goes wacky) than women working in offices that were more egalitarian. If you find yourself in the midst of a boys' club, keep your cortisol levels low by jamming out to a fun work playlist and taking a daily meditation break. (But there could an upside to having male coworkers. Can a Work Crush Benefit Your at-Home Relationship?)

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The Lack of Job Security

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Job security is becoming increasingly rare as more people flock to startups, freelance gigs and non-traditional careers. But the creative freedom comes at a cost. A 2013 study found that perceived job insecurity is associated with higher risk of coronary heart disease. Since the detrimental health effects likely stem from economic worries, make sure you have a safety net (AKA 401k) and a savings plan, especially if you're in an unstable field. (And practice these 7 Stress-Less Strategies for Dealing with Anxiety on the Job.)

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Your Impossible Boss

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That's right, your demanding boss might literally be driving you to an early grave. Researchers found that workers in demanding office environments were 35 percent more likely to have an actual, physician-diagnosed illness due to heightened stress levels. Since getting a new manager is rarely a simple solve, keep yourself calm under pressure by taking five-minute meditation breaks every hour.

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The 12 Hour Days

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Clocking all that overtime is killing more than just your social life. A meta-analysis of workplace stressors found that consistently working long hours raised employees' mortality rates by 20 percent. We mean it when we say work-life balance is not something to mess with—make sure you're clocking out in time to have a real dinner and a little me time before bed. (Which is Why Three-Day Weekends Should Be the New Norm.)

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The Open Office Plan

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Despite the fact that open office plans seem to be gaining popularity as a means to boost innovation and collaboration, they're also gaining criticism for harming workers' health. According to researchers at Cornell, constant exposure to low-level noise (like the unavoidable buzz you find in open offices) raised worker's adrenaline levels, which in turn triggered higher blood pressure. If you're stuck in an open space, get some noise-cancelling headphones to help you drown out the distractions and stay zen.

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Your Cube Mate

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Getting saddled with an office mate is a lot like going in blind with a roommate freshman year of college: you might love 'em, or you migh hate 'em. But regardless of whether your office mate becomes a constant distraction or your biggest career cheerleader, the very act of sharing a space could be harming your health. A Danish study found that workers who shared an office took 50 percent more sick days than workers who had their own office. If a solo space isn't in the cards, make sure to have some hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes on hand at all times.

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Your Sedentary Style

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We've all heard it: Sitting is the new smoking. Research shows that sitting all day can lead to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and even early death. Think you're covered by hitting the gym after work every day? Think again. The problems with leading a sedentary lifestyle (AKA sitting for the majority of the day) aren't simply offset by being active outside the office. Reduce your sitting time by doing a lap around the office every 20 minutes and or splurge on a standing desk. (Here are 9 Ways to Start Standing More at Work.)

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Your Computer Screen

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As much as we try to digitally detox, we spend a huge chunk of our day staring at a screen. And it's not without its health effects. According to research from The Vision Council, symptoms of overexposure to screens includes eye strain, neck and back pain, headaches, and dry eyes. Whenever possible, take your meetings offline and chat face to face. When you are at your desk, abide by the 20-20-20 rule: Look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds every 20 minutes.

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The Stale Air

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As if spending all day inside wasn't bad enough, the air you're breathing in the office might be seriously questionable. Older buildings are susceptible to things like black mold and asbestos (yikes!), so make sure your space is up to code. Even if you work in a newer building, research shows that you could be picking up harmful particles from the toner and ink used in laser printers. Pick up a few plants for your desk space to help purify your work area and consider getting a fan if you sit near the printer.

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