Maybe work has been difficult recently: One of your clients has been really demanding, or one of your coworkers dropped the ball, or you’ve had to work a lot of extra hours. And, on top of that, you’ve also been dealing with health issues: stomach aches, neck pain, trouble sleeping … the list goes on. Now, correlation doesn’t equal causation, but your work can have a very real negative effect on your health in many ways, not just the ones listed above. Read on to discover seven ways your work might be affecting your health, plus what to do about it.
- Poor Circulation
Both sitting and standing all day are bad for your circulation: Either way, gravity pulls down on your blood, causing it to pool in your lower legs and impeding your circulation. Poor circulation can also lead to tired-feeling limbs since your body isn’t circulating new nutrients to them via your blood as quickly as it should be.
To keep your blood from pooling, take a quick walking break every hour to get your blood moving. Wearing compression socks is also a good idea, as these garments provide just the right amount of pressure to encourage your blood to keep flowing rather than pool in your legs.
- Aching Joints
Whether they require operating a machine or typing at a laptop, most jobs involve repeating some kind of action over and over again. This repetitive motion can lead to all sorts of joint problems, from carpal tunnel syndrome to arthritis. If you begin to notice any symptoms in your joints—stiffness, swelling, inflammation, numbness, tingling—talk to your doctor so you can head off the issue before the damage gets any worse. There are many exercises you can do to stretch and strengthen aching joints, and you might also be able to wear a support brace on the affected joint(s) for extra help.
- Neck and Back Pain
Our bodies didn’t evolve to sit hunched over a desk for 8 hours—or more—a day, which is why so many office workers experience neck pain. On the other end of the spectrum, jobs that require a lot of physical activity also put workers at risk for developing musculoskeletal issues, in particular, back pain.
In fact, back pain is one of the most common reasons that employees cite for missing work; there are more than 264 million workdays lost to back pain each year in the U.S. Whatever you do for a living, proper posture and form are essential to preventing neck and back pain from developing; your doctor might also recommend a brace for extra support.
- Disrupted Sleep
Your job can disrupt your sleep in many different ways. If you work long hours, you simply might not have enough time left over to get all the sleep you need. If you work shifts outside of traditional business hours or have a schedule that constantly moves around,this will affect your circadian rhythm, which, in turn, impacts your sleep.
Finally, work-related stress can affect your ability to fall and stay asleep. Unfortunately, a lack of sleep causes your body to release more stress hormones, which then makes it harder to sleep, creating a negative cycle that constantly feeds on itself. Making enough time to sleep is really important, and melatonin can help reset your sleep cycle if your schedule is off.
- Gastrointestinal Issues
Work-related stress doesn’t only affect your sleep: Stomach issues are a common effect of anxiety, and stress can exacerbate already-existing problems such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. Over the short term, stress can cause temporary issues such as indigestion,
stomach aches and cramps, nausea, diarrhea, and loss of appetite or unnatural hunger.
If the stress is chronic, over time it can result in more serious conditions like peptic ulcers and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). If you’re having a lot of stomach issues, don’t just chalk it up to the food you’ve eaten. It could be your body telling you that you need to reevaluate your job.
- Poor Diet and Weight Gain
It can be hard to eat moderate portions of healthy food at work. It takes time to prepare a meal, bring it to the office, and then eat it at a slow enough pace that your body can know when it’s been fed enough. Many time-poor workers rush out to grab something at the closest fast food joint, then scarf it down at their desk as they continue to work through their lunch break.
Other people may be so overwhelmed that they don’t have time to eat at all, or even register that they’re hungry in the first place. These less-than-ideal habits can lead to weight fluctuations, especially weight gain. Meal prepping on the weekends make it easier to bring food to the office, and, with the rise of so many delivery services, you can often have healthy food brought to you, even if there’s isn’t a healthy dining option within walking distance of your office.
- Exposure to Germs
While working remotely has become more and more common, many workers still feel obligated to come into the office when they’re sick, exposing you to their germs and possibly making you ill in the process. In fact, working through sickness is often seen as a badge of honor in our workaholic-prone society, even if it puts other people in harm’s way.
Contagious illnesses like colds and the flu are a particular problem in uber-popular open office plans, where people share space communally and there are no walls or doors to stop germs from circulating freely. Wash your hands frequently and cover your nose when you sneeze and your mouth when you cough—and, if you’re the one who’s sick with something contagious, don’t come into the office!
The first step to improving your health on the job is knowing how work can affect your body. Watch out for the symptoms listed above, especially if they’re heightened while you’re at work (i.e., you get stomach aches often on weekdays but much less on weekends). Don’t just ignore your troubles and hope they’ll disappear: If they’re caused by work, these health problems will only worsen over time, so be proactive and take care of yourself!
Kaki Zell is a health sciences student studying at Clemson University. When she’s not writing or studying, she regularly blogs for her family’s company, Ames Walker. Her passion is helping people live a happy and healthy life.