The Work and Health Balance
It’s not groundbreaking news that work and health are significantly interlinked, affecting each other daily. Sometimes it can be hard to balance the two and give everything you have to your work while still looking after your health. Often, we’re not even aware we’re spending too much time focusing on the one and neglecting the other. Below we look at some of the main ways these two important aspects of our lives affect each other to help you take a more conscious approach to your work-life balance and amend it if needed. We also share our top tips on how to ensure you’re making the right choices for you and your work.
How does work affect health?
- Lots of sedentary time: It’s a different story if your job involves manual labour, but if you have a good old 9-to-5 desk job, chances are you spend a lot of time sitting down. Not only can this lead to a sore bum and backache, it can have detrimental long-term consequences. For example, insufficient daily movement can lead to weight gain, decreased flexibility and even repetitive strain injuries. Staring at a screen all day means your eyesight can also suffer: strain, dryness and fatigue are no fun if they’re a regular occurrence and hinder your work progress.
- Stress: There will always be times when work is stressful and this isn’t always a bad thing – extra pressure now and again is sometimes helpful to kick us into gear. However, if the stress is constant and overwhelming, it can damage your health in the long run. Stress can play a major role in the development of hypertension and other cardiovascular health problems. In a world in which so many other factors can contribute to heart disease, the last thing we want is for our job to be one of them. Mental health is, of course, also incredibly important and chronic stress can increase the chance of developing depression, anxiety or other mood disorders that could wreak havoc on our personal and professional lives.
- Poor food choices: We’ve all been in this situation – it’s 3pm, you’ve been working on an important project and you’ve forgotten to have lunch. What do you do? You run to the closest shop or cafe and grab a sandwich, coffee and maybe some chocolate or chips for extra energy. Now, we’re not saying it’s not okay to eat like this every now and again, but if it’s an everyday thing the chances are your body isn’t getting the nutrition it needs. We need energy to get work done, it’s true, but it’s important to choose healthy options wherever possible. Of course, this is far easier said than done. If we all had time to be making gorgeous, delicious and filling food at each meal, we probably would. But work often takes priority, preventing us from eating the balanced diet we’d like. This can drain your energy levels on a day-to-day basis and, over a longer period, also affect the functioning of your immune system.
- Lack of sleep: Raise your hand if work has ever kept you from your sleep. Oh look, we’ve all been there before. Ever since school, the “hustle” mentality has been praised, encouraging doing whatever it takes and burning the midnight oil to get projects finished on time. While we’re all for putting in the work and achieving results, surviving on 5 hours of sleep isn’t going to do that for you. Sleep is so important and is still underappreciated. With less sleep, we also see less productivity – and this is probably the least harmful effect of a lack of shut-eye. Ongoing poor sleeping habits can contribute to the risk of cardiovascular and other diseases, poor mental health and obesity.
- Not enough time for yourself: This is a point we’ve already touched on, but it’s worth labouring. The more time you spend working, the less time you have to focus on things that benefit your mental and physical health. Whether it’s meditating, reading a book or hitting the gym, none of them can happen if you overstretch yourself at work and feel too tired to do anything else with the rest of your day.
And how does health affect work?
We’ve looked at the impact work can have on your health – but if we place more focus on our health, will it really pay off? How does a healthier and more balanced lifestyle actually contribute to better and more efficient work being done?
- More energy and focus: This one’s pretty straightforward: staying healthy means fewer sick days, and that means it’s easier to stay on top of your job. There’s nothing worse than taking a couple of days off to get over a cold, only to return to a mountain of catch-up work. If you continuously look after yourself and maintain a balance, you’re less likely to experience burnout.
An important aspect of health is what we eat throughout the work week. Making balanced and nutritious eating a priority will pay off in the long run. For many people, a mid-morning or mid-afternoon sugar slump is very real. Choosing meals that provide long-lasting energy will help you to maintain your focus and prevent you from being distracted by unhealthy snacks. And if you’re reading this and wondering when on earth other people get the time to eat during the day, listen up! Even if you’re not particularly hungry, you need to eat. Coffee is not a meal. Giving your body sufficient fuel keeps your organs and systems working effectively and helps your brain to function throughout the day.
- Greater productivity: We’re not much different from toddlers – we need enough sleep or we get moody and struggle to cope. But sleep isn’t just important for mood – a good sleep schedule can have many benefits. After a decent night’s sleep, we’re better at concentrating, being creative and learning new skills. In addition, sleep is crucial for the processing of memories. Needing to remember details and deadlines is common in the world of work and you can significantly improve your abilities on this front by allowing yourself enough shut-eye.
- Less stress: Running, dancing, walking, yoga, Pilates, swimming – it doesn’t matter what you do, but finding the time for exercise can be a game-changer when it comes to your ability to tick off that to-do list. Exercise releases endorphins into the body, elevating your mood and helping to reduce stress. It’s also a great way to improve the quality of your sleep. Finally, it’s been shown to play a major difference in boosting mental capacity, essential if your goal is to be as efficient and productive as possible.
Our tips for better balance:
- Slip in some exercise: Hitting the gym at 5am isn’t for everyone and this is not the only way to get your exercise in. For example, you could walk some or all of the way to work or use part of your lunch break to do some quick exercises. Find out whether there’s a sport that you and a colleague both enjoy and team up to do it together – motivation is key! And if this still doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, try for small movements. You could set an alarm each hour to remind yourself to get up and stretch for a couple of minutes. Anything is better than nothing and you might just save yourself from getting a stiff neck.
- Configure your work environment: It’s hard to get work done if you’re in a space that’s uncomfortable, noisy or full of distractions. You don’t need a complete workstation overhaul, but small changes can make a big difference. Since you probably spend a good portion of the day sitting at your desk, a comfortable and supportive chair should be a priority. These can be pricey but they’re a great investment. Even having a dedicated work cushion can help. Good lighting is also important. Try to use natural light where you can – it’ll boost your mood and keep you working productively. Where natural light isn’t available, make sure you have a good desk lamp to avoid straining your eyes.
Another way to improve your work-set up is to make sure you’re surrounded by positive reinforcements. You could put up some fun artwork, use sticky notes to write down motivational quotes, or add photo frames with pictures of your family and friends. Whatever it is, make sure you have things to make you smile throughout the day and brighten up your space.
- Cut down on commute time if possible: If you’re able to work from home or find a coworking space close to home (hint hint), this could be a game-changer. Travel time can eat into our day in a major way, meaning less you time. If you can find a way to spend less time in the car or to optimise your commute, you will have more time to focus on important things such as food, exercise and rest.
- Make healthier decisions: You don’t have to eat a salad every day but making more balanced and nutritious food choices is a good goal. If you find yourself struggling to focus, you could try switching up your diet. Go for a big breakfast and keep healthy snacks on hand to prevent energy dips or pesky cravings. If working from home is an option, you could also opt for this every now and again to allow yourself to eat a proper meal and avoid having to buy convenience food. And don’t forget to take care of your body by taking any supplements you might need.
Hopefully you’ve come to the end of this with at least one change you plan to make for the good of your health. Remember that as much as work is important, health and happiness are too, and they deserve focus and attention. So carry on eating those veggies, taking your vitamins and getting plenty of sleep!