Most of us are all too familiar with office life. Some of us enjoy it, while many more others would very much prefer the long-awaited weekends instead. No more making sure you don’t over-snooze your alarms, hoping you don’t spill coffee down your crisp clean shirt, and trying not to get stuck in morning traffic so you can be on time for that wretched 9 am meeting with your boss.
Jokes aside, the office can actually be quite a dangerous place to be in for a long amount of time. And no, we’re not just talking about office gossip or politics.
We’ve compiled a list of 8 dangers lurking in your working space (yes, including if you’re working from home!) that could be hazardous to your health, and how to lower your risks of contracting these symptoms.
1. Your office chair
Let’s start with the most obvious risk. Your office chair is one of the biggest culprits of causing obesity in white-collar workers. Sitting down for a long period of time can be detrimental to your health.
A research published in Cell Physiology suggested that up to 50% more fat is generated in the buttocks and hip areas due to the pressure placed on these areas when sitting for hours and hours on end. Your cognitive functions might deteriorate too. Another recent study from UCLA found that sitting still for too long can also affect your memory.
If you think that’s the reason why your belt keeps getting tighter, maybe it’s time to make a change. Have a good stretch every once in a while to burn those calories and get your metabolism going. Go for a toilet break. Run a little errand. Just get out of that comfortable office chair more often and you’ll see improvements in the long run.
2. Your office desk
If you suffer from a sore neck and stiff shoulders, maybe there’s something wrong with the height of your desk. You may get a herniated disc in your neck if you’re in a bad posture for 4 hours or more.
Besides the obvious pain and stiffness you feel in your neck, shoulders, and upper back, slouching also causes other conditions and symptoms. Examples: Poor blood circulation, impaired lung function, poor digestion, constricted nerves, or even a misaligned or curved spine!
Next time, adjust your chair to a comfortable height, practise good posture, and use a standing desk if possible. Exercising also helps with correcting your posture problems. However, if you have been experiencing pain for an extended amount of time, please consult a doctor before doing any strenuous exercises.
3. Your computer screen
We’re all guilty of staring at screens all day. From big TV screens at home to smaller computer screens at work (and even tinier smartphone screens whenever). The harsh digital light from your computer screen exposes your eyes to blue light, which lead to damaged light-sensitive cells in your retina. This, in turn, causes macular degeneration, or central vision loss. Overexposure to blue light can also cause insomnia as it heavily disrupts your natural circadian rhythm that regulates your sleep pattern.
To reduce the damage, try getting a pair of blue light glasses. It may be a little pricey and cause a very slight distortion of colour in real life, but trust us that it’s an investment that pays for itself ultimately.
Staring at screens for a long time can cause uncomfortable and all-too-familiar problems, such as having difficulty focusing, migraines, eye discomfort, blurry vision, and dry, itchy eyes. Experts suggest implementing the 20-20-20 rule. Look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds every 20 minutes of looking at a screen. This helps to ‘refresh’ your eyes each time.
4. Your keyboard & mouse
When sitting at your desk typing or clicking away for hours, your hand and arm will get numb quickly. This is called the Carpal Tunnel syndrome. It happens when the median nerve in your hand get compressed for too long as it travels through the wrist. Since it is one of the major nerves in your hand, failure to address the issue can cause permanent weakness and lack of coordination in your fingers and thumb.
The next time you feel that painful, numbing sensation again, gently shake them for a few minutes to loosen up. You can also soak the affected hand in some warm water and carefully flex your wrist to relieve the pain.
5. Your lunch plans
Let’s face it – there are times when you have very limited time to eat, if at all. The five seconds you spent quickly gobbling your chicken rice can lead to several health problems, such as indigestion, weight gain, and heart diseases. A study in Japan showed that people who eat too quickly are at risk of metabolic syndrome, with risks of high blood pressure, high blood lipid content, high blood sugar, low HDL cholesterol (the good kind), and obesity.
On the other hand, studies have also shown that skipping lunch will cause your body to slow down in order to ‘save energy’. With your metabolic rate down, the next meal you eat will be processed slower, also leading to weight gain in the end. Not to mention the gastritis, acid reflux, and stomach acid that may happen, eroding your intestinal lining and causing ulcers.
So, the next time you find yourself rushing a deadline that gives you no choice other than to skip your lunch break, permit yourself to a few minutes of munching on an energy bar to keep the stomach acid at bay. But if you decide that the project deadline just isn’t worth sacrificing your general health for, then give yourself at least a decent half-hour to enjoy that pack of chicken rice you just tapao-ed from the stall across the street.
6. Your laser printer/copier
Anyone who’s had a mishap or two with the office printer would know that it’s annoyingly hard to get the toner stains off your clothes and fingers, and using a normal vacuum cleaner to clean up is simply impossible. That’s because toners emit microscopic nanoparticles that pass through normal vacuum bags and are easily inhaled into the human lungs, where they accumulate and become dangerous to health.
A research done at the West Virginia University has found that the nanoparticles “may change our genetic and metabolic profiles in ways that make disease more likely.” (West Virginia University, 2020). These nanoparticles interfere with the way cells make proteins, causing genomic changes that link to cardiovascular, neurological, and metabolic disorders.
If that still doesn’t sound scary to you, the same researchers have actually found office workers from as young as in their 20s showing symptoms of these genomic changes! Also, pregnant women are extremely susceptible to these effects, especially since she might pass on the damaged or changed genes to her baby.
Although printers are an essential part of office life, it is in your best interest to make sure your laser printer is in a well-ventilated area. If you’re prone to respiratory illnesses, like asthma or shortness of breath, always make sure to take precautions and have regular check-ups with your doctor, just to be on the safe side. You can never be too careful.
(P.S. That said, your inkjet printer does NOT have these toner problems, so there’s no need to get your panties all in a bunch.)
7. Your sunlight exposure (or lack thereof)
There’s a reason why doctors and therapists often advise us to get our daily dose of sunlight. It triggers the body to produce vitamin D, which in turn promotes our overall health, reduces inflammation, and improves brain function.
In addition to improving your physical health, the amount of exposure to sunlight you get also has a direct impact on your mental health. Sunlight promotes the production of serotonin, the ‘feel-good’ hormone, in our bodies. It helps to boost your mood and increase your focus at work. On the other hand, low levels of serotonin can cause depression, anxiety disorders, and panic attacks over a period of time.
If you find yourself easily getting demotivated or distracted at work, try taking a break and walking near a sunny window to build up on those serotonin levels. Experts suggest getting up to 15 minutes of sunlight exposure at least 2-3 times a week, but feel free to soak up the sun’s goodness whenever you can (without getting into trouble!) to keep your spirits soaring high throughout the day.
8. Your OT work
Need we say any more? Of course clocking in too many working hours in a day is going to be detrimental to your health. There’s even a Japanese term for overworking to death – Karoshi.
Although we may not be as overworked as our Japanese counterparts, you can’t ignore the effects of the high stress levels on your daily lifestyle. You’re constantly living on the edge, fearing late-night messages and calls from your boss to ‘fix something immediately’. Your sleep cycle is compromised. You’re always getting less than 5 hours of sleep. Your partner and family suffer because you’re always absent in their lives. Your health is spiralling downwards, your immunity is down, you get sick easily, and you’re always feeling fatigued…
Does that sound like you? Isn’t it time to grab a firm hold of the situation and turn things around before it’s too late?
We understand that OT is sometimes inevitable, especially in the days leading up to a huge project. However, working overtime should not be a part of your daily routine, and definitely not ‘expected of’ from your boss.
If your time management is not the problem, then the problem lies with your workload. Try working it out with your boss or manager to manage expectations better – but if nothing comes out of it, we’d actually suggest looking for greener pastures elsewhere, for the sake of your health.
Find the balance between work and life that works best for you. Both your mental and physical wellbeing will thank you for it.
By the way, we totally think the best way to unwind after a ~dangerous~ day at work is by giving yourself a relaxing and soothing foot bath while sipping on some hot ginger tea, watching reruns of The Office on Netflix… What do you think?