LiveSmart: When Work is Bad for Your Health

[This piece was written by Elaine Serafini, manager of the Employee Assistance Program at St. Peter’s Health Partners.]

According to research by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), 40 percent of American workers report their job is “very or extremely stressful.”

Common causes of workplace stress include personality differences, excessive workloads, conflicting expectations, hectic routines, and long hours. When you are stressed, your nervous system is aroused and hormones are released to meet the challenge: Your senses sharpen, your pulse quickens, and your muscles tense.

Short-lived or infrequent episodes of stress pose little risk to our overall health. But when stress goes unresolved, the body is kept in a constant state of activation, compromising its ability to repair and defend itself.

Studies have shown the risk of injury or disease – especially cardiovascular disease, musculoskeletal disorders and psychological disorders – increase under frequent stress. Finding ways to maintain good mental health and reduce stress is essential. So, what can you do?

Laugh it up – Laughter is one of the easiest ways to reduce stress. Share a joke with a co-worker, try to find humor in daily life, or relax at home with a movie to lift your spirits.

Learn to relax – Take several deep, calming breaths during the day. There are tapes, books and professionals who can teach you proper deep-breathing exercises. Try other complementary therapies like massage or Reiki. Ten minutes of daily meditation can help reset us and assist in efforts to reach a calm, peaceful state.

Stretch it out – Move away from your desk and take regular stretch breaks during the day. If your job is physically demanding, gentle stretching is even more important.

Prioritize – Find 10 minutes at the beginning of your day to get organized. Prioritize and address your most pressing tasks. Many people find making a list and checking off the items as they are completed is a good visual reminder of what they have achieved, providing a sense of accomplishment.

Refuel – Be sure to eat healthy and exercise daily. Exercising at work can be as simple as taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or parking a little further away for the walk in.

Budget – Create a meaningful budget so you don’t carry financial stress around with you all day.

NIOSH says “healthy organizations” with low-stress work and high levels of productivity are typically the ones that offer employee recognition for good work performance, opportunities for career development, an organizational culture that values the individual worker, and management actions consistent with organization values.

Many companies, like St. Peter’s Health Partners, have Employee Assistance Programs that offer free, confidential counseling for various issues including workplace stress, stress management, family issues, addiction services and more. If you’re feeling like the challenges at work that once energized you are now stressing you out, be sure to talk to someone.

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