4 Ways Your Job is Hurting Your Health—and How to Fight Back
Women often view their jobs as their lifelines. Not only is the paycheck critical to our survival, but the daily interpersonal interaction, professional challenges, and potential for growth are central to our mental and emotional well being.
It’s no wonder, then, that we spend so much time working. A 2016 study reported that Americans work 25 percent more than Europeans, take fewer vacation days, and retire later. Many of us would even say we are addicted to our jobs, which can be good for our careers, but bad for our health. Things we end up doing for the boss can gradually increase our risk of serious health issues like heart disease, stroke, diabetes, back and joint pain, and more.
Below are four ways your job may be putting your health at risk, and how you can fight back while still enjoying your career.
1. Your job keeps you at your desk.
This is by far one of the most dangerous characteristics of many jobs today—they require that you sit at the computer for hours. Even if you get up now and then to go to a meeting or run another errand, all those hours of sitting add up to bad news.
A number of studies have linked the sedentary lifestyle to poor health outcomes, but recently, researchers have gotten more specific about sitting. In 2015, they reported that prolonged sitting was linked with cardiovascular disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, and mortality, regardless of other physical activity. Later, they discovered that sitting for more than just three hours a day led to around 3.8 percent (or 433,000) of all-cause deaths over 54 countries. Yet on average, Americans spend up to 13 hours a day sitting, and 7.5 hours of that occurs at work.
The American Heart Association released a statement in August 2016 urging Americans that no matter how hard they may work out during their exercise period, they must sit less and move more to protect their health.
Action steps: Develop new ways to move during your day. Choose a smaller glass for water and get up more often to refill it. Stand to take telephone calls or read reports. Use boxes to elevate your computer or a standing desk and stand up to work for part of the day. Take regular breaks to get up and walk around. Do everything you can to break up your sitting time.
2. Your job robs you of sleep.
Every day we’re learning more about how important sleep is to overall health. Most experts recommend 7-8 hours a night, but in a 2016 news release, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned that more than a third of American adults aren’t getting that much, adding that sleeping less than 7 hours a night is linked with obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and mental distress.
A recent 2017 sleep study by SleepScore Labs painted an even dimmer picture: 79 percent of people get less than the recommended seven hours of sleep. Other studies have linked sleep deprivation to a suppressed immune system, increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease, and even an increased risk of premature death.
Your job can be contributing to a lack of sleep in a number of ways. One of the most common is the use of technology late at night. Our smartphones help us stay in contact with the office 24/7, which leads to feeling like we have to be “on” all the time, making it more difficult to relax. Exposure to screens at night also messes with the sleep hormone melatonin, making it more difficult to get to sleep.
You may also be working so many hours that you don’t have time to exercise. Studies show that exercise helps us sleep, so without it, your body may be too wired and restless to fall asleep.
Action steps: You need your seven hours. To help make sure you get them, keep all smartphones, tablets, computers, and televisions out of the bedroom, and stop using them at least an hour before bedtime. Go to bed and get up at the same time every day, keep your room dark and quiet, and invest in a quality mattress. If your work hours are getting out of control, find ways to delegate some of your tasks, and make a point to leave by a certain time. Finally, don’t neglect your daily exercise, no matter what!
3. Your job stresses you out.
There are few jobs that don’t come with at least a little stress, but for some women, that stress can become chronic. According to a 2011 survey by the American Psychological Association (APA), more than one-third of American workers feel tense or stressed out during their workday, and twenty percent report an average daily level of stress at an 8, 9, or 10 on a 10-point scale.
Work stress can be caused by a number of factors. Often employees feel stressed because they don’t believe their salary is sufficient for the work they’re doing. Others are stressed because of a heavy workload and long hours, or because of a fear of future lay-offs.
Unfortunately, chronic stress can lead to a number of unhealthy outcomes, including lack of sleep, weight gain, digestive issues, and even heart disease.
Action steps: If you’re feeling regularly stressed at work, take a weekend to determine what you can do about it. Perhaps you can schedule a meeting with the boss to ask for a raise. Turn to your coworkers for support if you can, make sure you’re taking regular breaks through the day, and avoid trying to fit too many activities into your day. Drop unnecessary tasks from your to-do list.
Set boundaries on your workday, so you’re not always taking work home. Decide what time you will shut off the work emails so you’re not responding to them all night long. Create a larger separation between your work and home life. Schedule in time to rest and recharge, particularly on your weekends, and be sure to use your vacation days.
Most importantly, recommit to healthy habits like nutritious eating and exercise. Incorporate more probiotic foods like yogurt, kefir, miso soup, and sauerkraut into your meals, as they help both body and mind deal with stress. As a last resort, if it looks like there’s nothing else you can do to improve your work situation, start taking action to find another job. Sometimes just small steps like updating your resume and social media profiles and scanning job sites can help instill hope that you won’t have to deal with the stress forever.
4. Your job leads to unhealthy eating.
When we’re at work, work usually comes first, which means we often neglect ourselves and our needs. That leads to unhealthy eating. We may grab something from the fast food joint or vending machine while on the go.
Though doing this once in awhile is unlikely to have lasting repercussions, doing it a couple times a week will cause you problems down the road. What’s worse, once you get into the habit of doing it, you’re likely to do it more and more, taking your unhealthy work eating habits home with you.
Eating well will not only make you healthier, it will also help you to better manage any stress you may be dealing with. The following tips will help:
- Don’t skip breakfast. It’s a great way to start the day off right, and to get in key nutrients like fiber and probiotics that will help you get through your time at work. Get up at least 10 minutes earlier than usual to fit breakfast in, and keep some convenient options handy for those days you’re running late. Some good ideas include peanut butter toast with sliced banana, a berry and yogurt smoothie, or some homemade oatmeal squares.
- Prepare in advance. Use some time on your weekend to prepare healthy meals and snacks you can use throughout the week. Make up your own snack bags using Ziplocks and dried fruit, nuts, boiled eggs, and whole-grain crackers, and stack your refrigerator with easy on-the-go snacks like reduced-fat cheese, yogurt, and individual-portion soups. Prepare your own lunches by making a big salad on the weekend, setting aside some fresh veggies and dip, and cooking up some casseroles and other easy dinners you can enjoy at home.
- Don’t eat at the desk. When you eat while doing something else, you’re likely to eat more than usual, and you’ll pay less attention to what’s going in your mouth. Worse, you run the risk of illness from the germs on your desk. No matter how busy you are, take your lunch somewhere else and take a break. Studies show that regular breaks increase productivity, so eating lunch away from work is better for your health and your ability to get your work done.
- Drink more water. Even slight dehydration will affect your mood and brainpower, so make sure you’re drinking water throughout the day. Studies have found that women are particularly sensitive to slight dehydration, experiencing fatigue, drops in concentration and memory, and headaches. Usually thirst isn’t a good gauge, so make it a habit to drink regularly whether you’re thirsty or not.
Ben Steverman, “Americans Work 25% More Than Europeans, Study Finds,” Bloomberg, October 17, 2016, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-10-18/americans-work-25-more-than-europeans-study-finds.
Aviroop Biswas, et al., “Sedentary Time and Its Association with Risk for Disease Incidence, Mortality, and Hospitalization in Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis,” Annals of Internal Medicine, January 20, 2015; 162(2):123-132, http://annals.org/aim/article/2091327/sedentary-time-its-association-risk-disease-incidence-mortality-hospitalization-adults.
Honor Whiteman, “Prolonged sitting: ‘Exercise does not offset heath risks,’ say AHA,” MedicalNewsToday, August 16, 2016, http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/312356.php.
Leandro Fornias Machado Rezende, et al., “All-Cause Mortality Attributable to Sitting Time,” American Journal of Preventive Medicine, August 2016; 51(2):253-263, http://www.ajpmonline.org/article/S0749-3797(16)00048-9/abstract.
“1 in 3 adults don’t get enough sleep,” CDC, February 18, 2016, https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2016/p0215-enough-sleep.html.
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Francesco P. Cappuccio, et al., “Sleep Duration and All-Cause Mortality: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Prospective Studies,” Sleep, May 1, 2010; 33(5):585-592, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2864873/.
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