by Lee DeGraw
Let’s be honest, when schedules are full and deadlines loom, our to-do lists start taking on a life of their own, and we sometimes neglect ourselves. But each time you put off doing the things your body needs to function well—exercising, eating a balanced diet, or getting sufficient sleep—what you’re really doing is putting your overall health on hold. Here are a few simple things you can do to prioritize your own well-being while you’re at work:
1. Use your lunch hour to get active
Lunch hour is important personal time, reserved for taking a break from work demands and nourishing yourself physically. If you have an entire hour for lunch, consider spending 20-30 minutes of it eating and the remainder getting outside for a brisk walk. A study conducted in 2015 found that office workers who participated in 30-minute lunchtime walks for a period of 2.5 months saw a significant increase in mood. Participants overall felt more enthusiastic and relaxed and less nervous at work.
2. Drink plenty of water
While we’ve all heard this before, it’s often overlooked. According to the Mayo Clinic, the daily recommended intake of water for healthy adults is 2.7 liters a day for women and 3.7 liters a day for men. You may be saying to yourself, “Yeah, right!”, but consider the following:
- We’re constantly losing water throughout the day via urinating, sweating, and even breathing.
- Drinking water consistently prevents dehydration and protects our joints and sensitive tissues.
- Steady water intake improves mood, reduces fatigue and anxiety, and improves concentration.
Try keeping a reusable water bottle at your desk and even setting a reminder on your desktop or phone so you can replenish frequently. Calculating your daily fluids may seem like a daunting (if not dull) daily task, but the more you do something the less you think about it. And before you know it, a healthy habit is formed. If you think you may still need a little help meeting your daily hydration goals, try researching water-rich foods that can easily be incorporated into your everyday diet. After all, 20% of your daily water intake comes from solid foods.
3. Take a deep breath and meditate
Meditation is powerful stuff. Carving out some time each day to practice breathing and mindfulness can transform your mental state in ways you may not have even realized were possible. Regular meditation decreases stress, anxiety, depression, pain, and inflammation. It has been shown to increase immune function and social connection, and improve memory. Many people begin with as little as 2-3 minutes of meditation each day, slowly working up to a longer practice. All you need is a quiet, comfortable place to sit or lie down—yes, this can be your car while at work—and a timer. There are several free apps (Calm, Simple Habit, Headspace) that can help guide you, too.
4. Pack healthy snacks
Vending machines may be convenient, but they’re not doing you any favors when it comes to proper nutrition. Keeping healthy snacks at your desk can help curb cravings for junk food and keep you on track when that afternoon itch for something sweet starts to kick in. Snacks like raw almonds, nut butter packets, instant oatmeal, fruit bars, granola, low-sodium beef jerky, and roasted seaweed are all nonperishable items that fit easily into a desk drawer.
Another way to support healthy eating habits while at work is recognizing when you’re feeling the urge to have something unhealthy and take a few big gulps of water instead, or fix yourself an afternoon cup of herbal tea with a little honey. Convenience is the biggest enemy of a healthy eating plan, and having nutritious options within grabbing distance is your safest bet to staying on track.
5. Give your eyes a rest
Computer screens put a tremendous amount of strain on the eyes, and once you’re home, cell phone oftentimes replaces that 9-to-5 screen. Digital eye strain can cause headaches, neck pain, blurry vision, and shoulder pain. Typically, people blink about 15 times per minute, but that number is reduced to half when we’re reading on smart devices. The glare from screens, along with the flickering of images, can cause a significant amount of eye irritation.
Cutting screen time significantly isn’t a reasonable solution for most of us, but there are other things that can be done to lessen the effects of eyestrain. Try using the 20-20-20 rule: take a 20-second break every 20 minutes, and focus your vision on something 20 feet away. In addition, try blinking more often to lubricate your eyes and prevent redness. You can also check your screen resolution by making sure your monitor has a high-resolution display since higher-res creates sharper images and reduces eye irritation and the need to squint.
6. Bring a toothbrush to work
Dental hygiene shouldn’t take a backseat just because you’re at work. Issues like gingivitis, bad breath, stains, and tooth decay don’t wait for you to get home from work to start acting up. Brushing your teeth at work is especially important for tea and coffee drinkers. Plus, you don’t want to chase away your coworkers with funky breath. A fresh-smelling smile will make you feel more confident, comfortable, and approachable. Simply keep a travel toothbrush and a small tube of toothpaste in your bag or desk drawer, and skip off to the bathroom once or twice per day.
7. Stretch it out
“Tech neck” is real, people. Our heads are heavy, weighing around 10-12 pounds when we’re standing or sitting straight. However, when leaning forward to look at our computers and other smart devices, that weight increases exponentially. The unnatural hunch forward we remain in while working or scrolling is putting up to 60 pounds of strain on our neck and shoulders. Over time, this strain can cause chronic headaches, fatigue, neck pain, and even herniated disks.
Make sure you’re taking regular stretch breaks every hour or so. Get up from your desk and do a few postural exercises. You can also invest in a better chair that is ergonomically conducive to your working style, or consider a standing desk and eliminate the need for a chair altogether. If nothing else, be certain your computer is at eye level so you’re not constantly looking downward to view the screen. These little adjustments can help save you from a whole lot of discomfort down the road.
8. Laugh a little or a LOT
Laughter truly is the best medicine. It’s good for the body and for the soul, and that’s a scientific fact. According to the Journal of Neuroscience, laughter releases endorphins that produce a euphoric feeling. Laughter has also been found to protect the body’s most precious organ, the heart. Research shows that laughter can help reduce stress and support healthy arteries, thus lowering the risk of heart disease.
Laughter is quite easy to come by in an office full of coworkers. Finding time to connect with colleagues throughout the day will most likely result in a more balanced workday, and even helps the minutes tick away faster. It’s also a pleasant way to meet new people and form friendships outside of work. You’re with these folks more than your own family in some cases, so it’s a good idea to try to enjoy each other’s company.
9. Make your desk a happy place
This can be achieved in many ways, but my personal favorite is plants. Picking up a few hearty indoor plants to add to your desk décor is a fantastic way to liven up the cube and bring a welcoming feeling to your workspace. Snake plants, air plants, jade succulents, and bonsai trees are all easy to find and care for. Not only can they contribute to creativity, but they can also improve air quality—win-win.
If plants aren’t really your thing, consider livening up your work area with photos or prints that inspire you. Try upgrading your pen/pencil collection with more colorful options, hanging a creative calendar, or getting a nicely designed lamp. Desk makeovers are fun and can make a big difference in your mood.
10. Bring your supplements with you to work
Keeping fish oil and other daily supplements at your desk is a great way to remember to take them each day. If you’re anything like me (rolling out of bed after hitting the snooze button 12 times and barely making it out of the house with both socks on), taking a daily dose at home just isn’t happening. There’s absolutely no way I can remember to take my supplements in the morning, so I keep them at my desk and take them once I notice them. If that’s still too subtle a reminder for you, consider changing your desktop background at work to something like, “Don’t forget to take your fish oil!” Yup, I’m full of good ideas.
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