Health at work
Workplace stress can contribute to anxiety and depression. Stress can manifest itself in physical symptoms of headaches, heart palpitations and fatigue. It can interrupt your sleep and affect your decision making, motivation, productivity and accuracy at work.
According to the SuperFriend annual indicators of a Thriving Workplace Survey Report 2019, over 50% of Australian workers have experienced a mental health condition and two in five believe their workplace either caused their condition or made it worse.
If you’re suffering from stress at work, it’s important to talk to your employer. Australian employers have a duty of care to protect their workers from work-related mental health hazards and risks. If you have an EAP service, use it. They are independent to your workplace and your contact with them will remain confidential for your privacy.
If ignored, stress can lead to more serious mental health issues like anxiety, depression and substance abuse.
One of the best ways to boost your mood, maintain your energy levels and support your brain health is through diet.
Food is the fuel that powers your working day, so choose fresh food that offers a steady supply of energy to keep you going. A high fibre diet consisting of nutritious fruits, vegetables, beans, lean protein, dairy and whole grains, is far more beneficial than a diet of highly processed snack foods.
Starting your day with a healthy breakfast can boost your energy levels in the morning and keep them steady for hours to help you concentrate.
Most of us can’t start work without a caffeine fix, but it has been widely said that over-doing caffeine can over-stimulate the nervous system, raise your heart rate and may contribute to anxiety levels. Caffeine can also reduce the absorption of certain vitamins and minerals like iron. Try alternating cups of tea or coffee with herbal teas or water to balance your overall intake.
Choose healthy options for lunch and avoid processed snack foods that contain little nutritional value and are too high in unhealthy fats (like saturated), added sugar and salt. The quick rush of energy they might give you won’t last! This interactive tool can help you build a healthy lunchbox for you and your family.
Try not to eat at your desk. You could use lunchtime as an opportunity to take a break from screen time. Go for a walk, sit in the fresh air and practice mindful eating. You can find more healthy meal and snack ideas at Eat for Health and the Baker Heart & Diabetes Institute.
Many of us spend a lot of time sitting at our desks and poor posture can lead to back pain. Excess weight, stress and lack of exercise can also lead to back pain.
If you suffer from recurrent back pain, make sure your desk is properly set up.
- Choose a comfortable, supportive chair
- Keep wrists and forearms level if using a keyboard
- Rest feet flat on floor, avoid crossing legs, use a footrest if necessary
- Keep top of screen at eye level
- Have the keyboard straight in front of you
- Avoid glare on the screen
- Wear appropriate glasses if required
Another cause of back pain is lifting heavy objects incorrectly or twisting while carrying heavy objects. Learn the correct way to lift and carry heavy weights.
Sitting for long periods of time is linked to an increased risk to health. Sitting for long periods is thought to slow the body’s metabolism and affect our ability to regulate blood pressure, blood sugar levels and break down body fat for energy.
If you spend most of your day sitting at a desk, set a reminder to get up every half hour and take a few minutes to walk around.
Regular exercise can boost your energy levels and the more often you exercise, the more you can benefit.
It may seem counter-intuitive when you’re feeling tired or lethargic but gentle exercise could help boost your energy levels. Even a simple 15-minute walk outside can help to clear your head and leave you feeling refreshed.
- Take a walk in your lunchbreak
- Take public transport to work
- If you’re working from home, use your usual commute time to get moving
- Take the stairs instead of the lift
Studies suggest natural daylight can lead to a more productive workplace and better overall health for workers. Researchers found favouring natural light over artificial not only saved costs and energy but supported mood and sleep. Visual discomfort from glare using artificial lights was seen to be the culprit.
Repetitive strain injury
Repetitive strain injury (RSI) such as tennis elbow and carpel tunnel syndrome can occur when you repeat the same movements so often that you damage tissues in your body. It might happen if you spend long periods of work without a break, or if you use chairs or workstations that aren’t set up properly.
RSI causes pain, numbness and lack of strength. Early warning signs might include tingling or discomfort in the neck, arms, wrists or shoulders. It’s important to get treatment because RSI can become a chronic injury.
Carpel tunnel syndrome is characterised by tingling or numbness, mainly in the thumb and first two fingers. If left untreated, carpel tunnel syndrome can lead to permanent loss of strength and movement in the hands. Reduce your risk by making sure your keyboard and mouse are set up ergonomically.
If you develop RSI, you may need rest from the activity that caused your symptoms. Your GP may recommend a combination of medication (either over-the-counter or prescribed), hot or cold packs or rehabilitation including physiotherapy or occupational therapy. Certain conditions may require surgery the longer left untreated.
Chronic disease can have a major impact on daily living, both at home and at work. Examples of chronic disease include arthritis, asthma, diabetes, osteoporosis, lung disease and heart disease. Productivity, happiness, and general wellbeing can all suffer, leading to increased absenteeism. Proper management can help improve health and wellbeing. CBHS Better Living programs may be able to help.
Workplaces can be a source of air pollution and chemicals, which can cause damage to lungs. It’s estimated that 10-15% of adult asthma cases are work-related. Workers in bakeries, wood yards, and plastics and rubber manufacturing are at particular risk.
People who work with manufactured stone, concrete, bricks or rocks can breathe in fine particles of dust and are at risk of contracting silicosis, an incurable lung disease which can prove fatal.
Safe Work Australia has guidelines on reducing exposure to dust to prevent the disease.
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