Is your job wreaking havoc with your mental and physical health?
More from Wellbeing
By Izzy Capelin
From commuting to overbearing bosses – some work stress is unavoidable, however knowing how to make things a little easier is the first step to a happier, healthier you. After all, we spend more time at work than any other place. Here’s what you need to know…
1. You’re constantly working overtime
It’s rare to find a job nowadays that allows you to leave on time, every day. Most of us will find ourselves having to work late or get in early to tick everything off our to-do list. In fact, according to a report by OnePulse, over two thirds of UK-based employees now work an extra day (8.73 hours) each week, on top of their contracted hours. Numerous studies have highlighted the health risks of constantly working beyond their contractual hours (or having very long contractual hours). Working longer hours can increase your risk of heart disease, stroke, depression and even alcoholism. There’s also evidence to suggest it actually decreases productivity and can result in poorer cognitive performance – quite the opposite to what you’re trying to achieve.
The majority of research tends to put the benchmark at 55 hours a week, but for a five-day week this still equates to 11 hours a day – most likely a good 3 hours over their contracts. The takeaway here is that long working days puts a lot of stress on your body and mind, not to mention the inability to spend any time doing anything else. Ben Barker, Director at Total Health Clinics, makes an interesting observation about how working late isn’t a habit that’s encouraged everywhere:
“Working overtime can cause your posture to become poor – something which is often prevalent for those who work longer hours or spend too much time at their desk or on their feet. As we become overworked and become tired, our posture becomes slumped as we have less energy to hold the same upright position. Interestingly, whilst in this country we ‘value’ an employee who works above and beyond their normal working hours, in Europe, and particularly Germany, an employee who constantly stays late and never leaves their desk is viewed as an inefficient worker and is not held in the same regard!”
If you’re finding that your contracted hours aren’t sufficient to get complete you work, talk to your line manager about what can be done to reduce the work load or any time consuming tasks that can be delegated elsewhere.
2. You never get up from your desk
We all know being sedentary 24-7 is bad for us, but sadly our jobs often make it an unavoidable.
Prolonged sitting has been linked to a significantly higher risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer, and depression, as well as muscle and joint problems. According to a recent Government report, work-related musculoskeletal disorders were responsible for 40% of all days lost due to work related illness in 2014/15.
According to Ben: “the common cause of poor posture is not office furniture – a fancy adjustable chair won’t solve your issues unless you sit in it properly!” He suggests…
“Sitting with the knees below the hip level encourages the pelvis to tilt forwards.This encourages the spine to extend and lengthen. The shoulders and therefore the muscles that power them can then relax in this position. Thus, reducing fatigue, eye strain, neck/shoulder tension and headaches.”
Check if your company offers desk assessments to see how best to reduce the potential risks of your working environment. This may include getting a standing desk or taking regular breaks that involve standing up and stretching. Generally sitting with your back at 135 degrees puts the least amount of pressure on your spine – so try not to learn forward when at your desk!
3. You never get to sit down
Taking it to the other extreme, jobs that require you to be constantly on your feet also come with a number of problems. Half of the world’s employees spend 75% of their day standing up. Retail, bars/pubs, food services and even healthcare often give employees few opportunities to sit down and rest their bodies.
Constantly being on your feet can lead to varicose veins, poor circulation, swelling in the feet and legs, joint damage and even heart and circulatory problems. The NHS says that having a job that involves spending long periods of time standing is one of the leading causes of plantar fascitis, the most common cause of heel pain. As Ben explains:
“Prolonged standing tends to have a detrimental effect on our feet and lower back. If there is no opportunity to sit/rest during the day, then good footwear is essential. High heels, work boots and wellies are the worst offenders when causing pain to the lower limbs, so you should try to avoid these where possible.”
Comfortable shoes with good arch support are a must when spending prolonged periods on your feet, as well as taking regular breaks to stretch. Compression socks may also help reduce swelling and pain in your legs.
3. Your have a long commute
Sadly, this is an unavoidable aspect of most people’s careers, as it’s not always possible to live close enough to work to avoid a long commute. Travelling for long periods of time every day can have a terrible impact on our overall health.
UK’s Office of National Statistics found that people who commute more than half an hour to work each way report higher levels of stress and anxiety than people with shorter commutes or no commutes at all. Looking at more specific modes of transport, riding a bus for 30 minutes or longer is associated with the lowest levels of life satisfaction and happiness.
Finding a job closer to home isn’t going to be an option for the vast majority, so it’s more of a question of using your commute time to your advantage:
- As we’ve already explained above, sitting for long periods of time is NOT good for us, so ditching the car and opting for cycling or public transport will immediately get you less stationary.
- Carry water with you, not only will this stop you from becoming dehydrated, it will stop you from snacking. According to a poll of 1,500 commuters by the RSPH, 33% reported increased snacking and 29% said they ate more fast food when commuting for longer.
- Pay close attention to your posture, whether you’re standing or sitting
- Why not try mindfulness or listening to podcasts?
4. You’re kept awake at night thinking about work
Not only does sleep affect your work, but your work can also have a massive impact on your sleep. Most adults require 7-8 hours (although it will vary from person to person), but high levels of stress can interfere with your sleep patterns and wreak havoc with your mental and physical wellbeing.
Not getting enough sleep can increase your risk of obesity, heart disease, infections and even cancer. Also, it’s been found that a lack of shut-eye can make you more impulsive, more forgetful and more accident prone – none of which are beneficial in the workplace.
Improving our sleep seems to be a top health concern among Brits, as research suggests that UK adults rank among the worst sleepers when comparing 13 countries across Europe, North America and Asia. Getting more sleep is now the second most common health ambition (after losing weight/lowering BMI), but as we know, there are a number of elements that could be contributing to your poor sleep. Maryanne Taylor, founder of The Sleep Works, advises:
“Stress can make us sleep fitfully, affecting our ability to sink into our deeper level of sleep which is the restorative and healing stage of our sleep cycle. Lying in bed worrying and contemplating work issues can induce high levels of cortisol which counteracts the production of our natural sleep hormone, melatonin making it difficult for us to fall asleep.”
Sleep isn’t the only thing affected by stress, it can wreak havoc with your digestive system, cause irritability and have a domino effect on other aspects of your life. So what can you do to help the situation? Maryanne has two main tips:
- Get it on paper
“Write down your worrying thoughts and a to do list for the next day. Research shows that the act of writing things down, gives our brain the capacity to ‘let go’ rather than holding the worrying thoughts in.”
- Control your thoughts
“It is often our thoughts that produce stress so knowing what to watch out for can help control the levels of stress we feel. Helping ourselves wind down before bedtime is an essential part of this. Distancing from our computer and phone and giving ourselves personal space is so important in helping our bodies and brains let go of tension and stress of the day, in order to get to sleep more easily”