Healthy Lifestyle Tips: Take Charge of Your Work Life

Call them "occupational hazards" people, places, and things you come in contact with in your work life that have the ability to harm your physical and emotional wellbeing.

It's a fast growing problem, especially since we're spending more time in the office than ever before. In fact, women have tacked two extra hours onto their workweek since 1980, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "From your frame of mind to the germs you're regularly exposed to, your office environment plays a huge role in your health," says Jane Sadler, M.D., a physician with Baylor Health Care System in Dallas. That's why we consulted the experts to reveal five ways the daily grind may be wearing you down and what you can do to keep yourself protected.

Work related stress #1. YOU'RE ALWAYS ON CALL

Out of all the things women stress over, work related stress is at the top of the list, reports the American Psychological Association. Blame it on heavier workloads and longer days, says Ellen Kossek, Ph.D., a professor of human resources and organizational behavior at Michigan State University.

Round the clock work life

"More and more, companies are expecting employees to be available around the clock via cell phone, BlackBerry, or email," she says. Although it's easy to write off daily pressure as an inevitable part of the job, it takes a toll. "Stress causes surges in the hormone cortisol, which makes your heart beat faster, your blood pressure rise, and your muscles tighten," says Claire Michaels Wheeler, M.D., Ph.D., author of 10 Simple Solutions to Stress.

While this response can power you through a deadline or emergency, our bodies aren't equipped to be on constant red alert. Chronic stress, including work related stress, raises your risk for diabetes, depression, and heart disease.

You're always on call at work. How do you find stress relief?

"Bringing work problems home with you can affect your personal relationships, rob you of sleep, and raise your risk for depression," says Claire Michaels Wheeler, M.D., Ph.D.

PROTECT YOURSELF: Have an end of day ritual for work related stress relief

To avoid working or dwelling on a project all evening, take a few minutes at the end of the workday to decompress. A simple act, like listening to a favorite song on your commute home, can signal it's time to transition from your work life to home life. Make a date. Whether it's dinner with friends or a session with a trainer, postwork commitments will ensure you won't linger in the office.

"When you know you have to leave at a specific time, you'll get more done during the day," says Ellen Kossek, Ph.D. Ban the BlackBerry for an hour It's called a CrackBerry for a reason: Some 90 percent of BlackBerry users in one study compulsively checked it on their own time, say researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan School of Management. That constant connection is draining; people who frequently take business calls, emails, and pages at home are the most likely to report feeling tired and distracted.

Reclaim your free time by turning it off after a certain time at night or setting aside a specific room in your house in which to return messages.

Work related stress #2. YOU KEEP TO YOURSELF

Between preparing for a presentation and tackling an overflowing inbox, bonding with coworkers may be the last thing on your mind. But having a close friend in the office makes you more content and productive, according to research from the Gallup Organization. That's important, because work unhappiness spills over into every aspect of your life: A study from Britain's Lancaster University found that people who were dissatisfied on the job were more likely to become anxious or depressed.

You keep to yourself at work and being isolated can be stressful. How can you find stress relief?

PROTECT YOURSELF: Get the scoop for work related stress relief

Gossiping with coworkers can help foster relationships in your work life and release tension, according to a study in the journal Personal Relationships. "Having a similar gripe helps people build trust and get closer," says lead researcher Jennifer K. Bosson, Ph.D. But before you start spilling secrets, know that the office gossip is ranked the most annoying person in the office, finds a nationwide survey. "Try dishing about your night out instead," says Bosson. "It can help bring you together without someone getting hurt."


"Your office may look neater than your coworker's, but it's probably still teeming with germs that cause colds, flu, and intestinal problems," says Chuck Gerba, Ph.D., a professor of microbiology at Arizona State University. In fact, his research reveals your desk is one of the dirtiest places in the average office building, containing 400 times the bacteria of the average public toilet seat.

PROTECT YOURSELF: Wipe down your work space for work related stress relief

"We found women's desks had three times the number of germs as men's," says Gerba. "That's because women tend to eat and apply makeup in the office, leaving behind particles that bacteria can feed on."

  1. Clean up your act by running a premoistened disinfecting wipe over your desk, phone, mouse, and keyboard at least once a day.
  2. Store snacks in the kitchen. You'll ward off mindless munching and a dirty environment.
  3. Gerba discovered that desk drawers in which food was stored were often spotted with mold. If you frequently dine at your desk, lay down a place mat or a few paper towels to catch crumbs.
  4. Lighten up on the lotion. The creams and lotions that keep your skin soft can be transferred to surfaces, spreading bacteria from your hands.
  5. Apply a product before lunch so it has time to absorb before you start touching the keyboard.


Even if you steer clear of your sniffling coworkers, they still pose a risk to your health: Cold causing germs can thrive outside the body on door handles and in other common spaces for up to two days. In fact, up to 80 percent of colds are caught by touching an infected surface.

PROTECT YOURSELF: Skip the handshakes for work related stress relief

Because germs can also live on skin for two hours, avoid contact with a coworker you've just heard coughing. "Say something like, 'I'm just getting over the flu and wouldn't want to pass it on to you or your family,' " says Gerba.

Keep your immune system in check. Having a few healthy habits beyond washing your hands can strengthen your ability to fight off a cold. Research shows a few extracurricular activities, such as exercising three or four hours a week, calling a friend and watching a funny flick can actually shore up your immune system and provide stress relief.


"Our eyes converge, or cross together, in order to focus on a close up object, like a computer screen," says Arthur Benjamin, M.D., an ophthalmologist in Los Angeles. "Keeping your eyes in this position for long periods of time causes strain." In fact, up to 90 percent of computer users develop computer vision syndrome, a set of symptoms that includes dry, burning eyes; headaches; blurred vision; and sensitivity to light. "Over time this eyestrain can lead to permanent changes, such as nearsightedness," says Benjamin.

Your eyes are always glued to the computer. Discover how to find stress relief for your overworked eyes.

PROTECT YOURSELF: Get rid of the glare for work related stress relief

Everyone dreams of a sun drenched office, but that excessive light can bounce off your computer screen, putting additional strain on your eyes. Switch off overhead lights and use lamps, then position your monitor so that windows are to the side instead of in front of or behind it. Take a break. Research shows people blink half as much as usual just six to eight times a minute when they're looking at a computer screen, which can dry out the eyes. So make a conscious effort to blink every so often.

"Also look away from the screen every 10 to 15 minutes and stare as far off as you can for a few seconds to relax your eye muscles," says Benjamin. Adjust your screen: You might think moving your computer closer to you is easier on your eyes, but it's best to keep your distance. "Your screen should be 20 to 28 inches from your face," recommends Benjamin. And tilt it so it's 25 degrees lower than eye level; a Danish study found this angle can reduce vision fatigue.

Shape provides you with the healthy lifestyle tips you need, in your work life and at home.

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