Working behind a desk all day can put you at risk for several health problems; problems linked to your work habits and environment, be it in a corporate office atmosphere or fieldwork. The inadvertent influence of the professional on the personal is growing at an unprecedented pace in today’s world, and this is where as a working professional you should be aware of what puts you at risk and how you can prevent it. Here are 10 common work-related health risks being faced by people all over the world:
With the decrease in the number of physically demanding jobs available to people, the susceptibility to health risks found in a sedentary work environment has increased. One of the most common health problems related to a desk-job is carpal tunnel. It refers to the presence of light soreness or pain from too much typing on a computer, to stronger symptoms such as numbness, tingling or sharp pains in the hands. In carpal tunnel, the nerve that runs through the forearms is put under pressure or compressed by swollen bones or ligaments in the wrist. This is usually caused by typing for an extended period of time without rest.
How to Prevent: For more serious cases of carpal tunnel, one might consider acupuncture or even surgery to relieve the symptoms, however most doctors would recommend a set of exercises to ease the pain initially and gauge the seriousness of the injuries. A good way to prevent it is to follow the ergonomics of keeping your wrist in line with your arm which should be bent at a 90 degree angle at the elbows. While typing, your wrist should ideally hover above the wrist pad of the keyboard, and you should allow occasional breaks to rest your wrists.
Anxiety Disorder and Depression
Anxiety refers to an unpleasant feeling when you feel worried, uneasy or distressed about something that may or may not be about to happen. It can be triggered by the presence of too many deadlines, work overload and even an unhealthy work environment in terms of how your employer treats you. Frequent worries, tearfulness or panic attacks are signs of an anxiety disorder. Alternatively, depression is classified as a mood disorder that affects a person’s interest level in the work as well as the relationships at work and back home. Common signs of depression are loss of appetite, frequent absenteeism, suicidal thoughts and rapid mood swings. Late night shifts, working outside the 9 to 5 schedule or doing work even at home can cause anxiety and/or depression. One 2007 study found that when compared to day workers, night workers had significantly lower levels of serotonin, a brain chemical that plays a key role in mood. (Source: webmd.com)
How to Prevent: Both anxiety and depression are serious conditions which require medical treatment after a point, but on a preventive note, one of the first rules is do not bring work home. Keeping your professional and personal life separate can prevent work from ruining relationships. Better time management and communication when facing an overload of work helps – this communication could be with the employer, a fellow employee or even a friend/family member.
Lower Back/Shoulder Pains
The sedentary nature of office jobs today has produced a perplexing paradox: we find ourselves tired and exhausted even though we’ve been sitting in an air conditioned room all day. Wrong body posture while sitting, inadequate support in the furniture used and the lack of regular breaks can lead to recurrent lower back and shoulder pains which, if ignored, can cause serious injuries. Sitting in the wrong posture for a long time can cause permanent numbness, sharp, consistent pain, stiffness and weakness in the shoulders. Existing health problems such a slipped disc can become further aggravated by sitting at a desk for long periods of time.
How to Prevent: Simple principles of ergonomics can be used to determine the adequate level for arm and shoulder rest as well as the height of the chair used while working. The overall sync between your own posture as well as the place you sit and work is important. For this reason, it’s a good idea to take regular breaks of 10-15 minutes and use them to take a walk. Stretching exercises and a conscious awareness of your body posture can go a long way in preventing unnecessary back and shoulder problems.
There are several links between office jobs and the prevalence of obesity. The lack of any significant exercise during the day and returning home completely drained of energy leaves an individual more prone to fluctuations in metabolic rate. These fluctuations can cause rapid weight gain. Similarly, eating unhealthily while at work or eating out regularly, as is common among young professionals, can be seriously hazardous. Research has also found that as compared to day workers, night workers have less leptin. Leptin is a hormone which regulates appetite and decreased levels of leptin can cause us to feel hungry more often.
How to Prevent: If getting exercise on weekdays is tough, make it a point to get some in on the weekend. Investing in a gym membership is never a bad idea if you’re unable to push yourself to go on a jog or take up something different such as yoga. It’s also a good idea to take a friend along to keep you company and also provide motivation. If a colleague of yours at work hits the gym on weekends, join him/her. Similarly, start opting for healthier alternatives of food at the cafeteria, or pack lunch for yourself before leaving. Brown-bagging lunch a few times per week can have a significant impact on your health overall.
This is a common health problem among people who spend a lot of time working on the computer. A lot of working professionals report blurry vision, headaches, watery eyes or itchy eyes after working on the computer for a long period of time. These are symptoms of eyestrain. If left unattended, eyestrain can seriously damage your vision or even lead to loss of eyesight. If you’ve been experiencing eyestrain for more than 2 months now, you should see a doctor and get corrective lenses if necessary. Signs that you may be suffering eyestrain are chronic headaches, sore neck and frequent blinking.
How to Prevent: The best way to prevent eyestrain is to take regular breaks, after every 30 – 45 minutes of working on the computer. During these breaks, close your eyes and relax your mind; you can even massage your forehead to relieve any pain. Reduce screen glare and increase the font size of your computer to decrease strain on eyes while reading. If you already have corrective lenses or spectacles, make it a point to wear them while working on the computer.
Research has concluded that odd hours of working and lack of a proper schedule and steady body clock can increase the probability of a cardiovascular disease. This health problem will not manifest itself immediately or even in the short term, its effects have been found more among professionals in their late 30s or early 40s who have been working in the same environment for 15-20 years. Those who have been doing shift work for the majority of their working lives are 40% more prone to a cardiovascular disease. Similarly, the risk of having a stroke increased by 5% for every five years a person did shift work. (Source: webmd.com)
How to Prevent: If you can help it, try not taking up shift work at nights or working longer hours at night. However, if you must do shift work, then make sure you give your body adequate rest time and focus even more on your diet. Quit habits such as smoking which can aggravate the risk. A healthy diet with plenty of vitamins and decreased cholesterol coupled with regular exercise and plenty of sleep can help decrease the probability of heart disease.
The most common occurrence of insomnia among workers is stress-related. This form of insomnia is directly linked to the amount of stress faced by a person in the work environment and whether his/her home conditions are conducive enough to balance it out. Stress over finances, loss of a job, an impending presentation or conflict at the workplace can lead to loss of sleep. There are various forms of insomnia one can face ranging from trouble falling asleep, trouble staying asleep for a significant period of time or severe insomnia that disrupts normal functioning. Insomnia can be linked to other health problems such as depression, obesity and even muscle pains.
How to Prevent: Progressively relax your muscles as you try to fall asleep: this can help relieve tension in your body, which is usually a prime cause of insomnia among adults. Progressive muscle relaxation can be done by starting with your head and moving downwards or starting with your feet and moving upwards. The idea is to relax each and every muscle of the body. Another way to curb your chances of insomnia is to have a steady sleep pattern that follows the 90 minute rule of REM and non-REM sleep. Intake of substances such as caffeine right before bedtime or even in the evenings should be avoided.
Attention Deficit Disorder
The frequent multitasking during work can prevent you from focusing entirely on one task and lead to a problem known as Adult Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). ADD has an early onset, usually in childhood, however most cases go undetected until later in life. Common problems associated with Adult ADD are inability to remember simple details, forgetfulness, inability to concentrate on tasks for too long and general difficulty in planning out your day. People with ADD need to be more careful in organizing their lives, keeping tabs on appointments, simplifying their routines and matching their strengths to their job.
How to Prevent: The fact that ADD goes unnoticed in the early years makes it difficult to prevent its occurrence in adults. However, problems associated with ADD can be managed by using better organizational tools such as having a planner, making lists, breaking down tasks into manageable chunks and keeping distractions to the minimum. In this regard, if possible, request a private room at the office or a closed cubicle to work in to cut out distractions. Alternatively use earplugs to keep distracting noises at bay. At the same time, keep taking regular breaks to avoid the urge to distract yourself while working.
The presence of bacteria in the workplace constitutes a major health risk. Sitting in one place all day long and using public restrooms makes you more susceptible to bacterial infections. Some of the dirtiest objects on your desk are the phone, the desktop, the computer keyboard and mouse. These places tend to accumulate dirt if you’re in the habit of eating at your desk and waiting to take out the trash. Similarly, tiny crumbs and food remnants can get stuck between places such as keyboard keys and attract germs and disease.
How to Prevent: Eating lunch at the desk should be kept to a minimum. If your office has a dedicated cafeteria, use it for eating to keep your desk clean. However, if you do have to eat at your desk, make sure you wipe it with a clean cloth or preferably with antibacterial wipes. Keep a hand sanitizer ready to clean your hands before and after eating. Wash and dry your hands properly after using the restroom.