Stress FROM the Office: Ergonomics How and Why
Stress FROM the Office: Ergonomics How and Why with Dr. Bob Niklewicz PT, DHSc, CEAS II “The Ergo Whisperer”
In previous newsletters I have talked about various aspects of the Home Office. Several have covered how to make your home office environment successful from an Ergonomics perspective. There are still many things to chat about that involve the ergonomics of the office.
In one previous article I addressed Pain and the Healing process. Pain and Healing is something that is associated with the human experience when working beyond the body’s physiological limits. Today I take a sidestep to talk about a byproduct of Pain and Healing and that is “The Stress Response and Self Care”.
If you work at life, you will have or have had some degree of stress for many reasons.
It is important to understand what stress is, and how it affects you. More importantly, understanding what you can do about stress, is vital. Being aware of how to address stressful situations promotes a faster recovery from the physical and psychological signs and symptoms of stress. That is called, “Stress Management”. We need that kind of skill / tool in our toolbox to deal with the negative situations that make us “Frazzled” (an interesting word) initially. Unchecked stress can lead to negative effects that may produce physical illness.
When you experience a stressful event, and are NOT “stressed out” by it, you are probably in Emotional Balance. To achieve Emotional Balance, you need techniques to deal with the event and the negative effects from the Stress. This will allow you to return to a healthy balance faster. A technique for achieving Emotional Balance is an important skill to have.
Remember, not all STRESS is bad. Stress also provides you with motivation and energy to accomplish tasks, reach deadlines and goals that, when completed can be euphoric!
What does Stress do to me?
The signs and symptoms of Stress vary from person to person. The most common ones are: A short fuse Emotionally, Anger, Sadness, Anxiety, becoming Defensive, avoiding people especially those that make you grit your teeth when seeing them or talking about them. Often an increased use of alcohol, candy, drugs or cigarettes are associated with a Stress response.
Physically you may find the following: increasing periods of fatigue, insomnia or an inability to go to sleep, changes in eating habits/stomach dysfunction, bowel and/or bladder changes, progressive increase in the awareness of tension, aches and pains (not from exercise) of the neck or back.
Long term physical problems can develop: being vulnerable to diseases, muscle weakness and problems with other internal organs. Cardiac issues such as: higher blood pressure and higher heart rate may occur too.
From the Ergonomics perspective, consider that the problems associated with the Primary Ergonomics Risk Factors for Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs) (awkward posture, force, repetition, contact stress and vibration) are related to decreased circulation. EACH of the risk factors involves the lack of good circulation to your muscles, tendons, ligaments and other tissues.
Your HEART IS ALSO A MUSCLE! It needs oxygen rich blood from relaxed arteries and veins. When you become stressed and your body tightens up, that pinches down on the blood vessels which in turn reduces the circulation to your heart. When circulation is reduced, the heart WILL beat harder and faster to get the blood it needs. Not dealing with the stress can lead to Cardiac issues. It is necessary to chill out a little and allow the circulation to flow easier. If you think an Ergo Break would help, you would be absolutely right!
So How do I COPE with Stress?
Developing good work and play habits are a great place to start. The following are good ways to reduce the effects of stress on your body and mind.
- Be aware of the things that make you “Up Tight” AND address them EARLY.
- TAKE your Ergo Breaks! They really do work. (See the Self-Care List below)
- Change from sitting to standing or standing to sitting every 20-30 minutes AND do the basic Range of Motions exercises.
- If you have special physical needs, discuss them with your doctor, physical therapist or other healthcare provider.
- Identify and then change or eliminate those items or issues that are stressing you.
- Once identified, deal with them one at a time. Do not pile more work on yourself. Avoid getting into situations where you feel overwhelmed. Good scheduling of tasks is an excellent idea.
- Take dedicated “relaxation” breaks in a safe quiet area. (More specifics are listed below.)
- Eat smaller but more frequent meals. 3-6 small balanced meals a day will reduce the stress on your metabolism and not allow your blood sugar level to crash.
- Increase fluid intake to 4-6 eight-ounce glasses of water a day. Avoid caffeine (my Nemesis when stressed). It is like gasoline on a fire. Also, avoid alcohol. Alcohol has long term negative effects on your body as it changes your metabolism also.
- Seek professional help when you are faced with stressful life situations or experiences.
A Breathing Relaxation Exercise that Works!
One of the most effective tension relievers is a correctly done “Breathing” exercise. Yes,
everyone knows how to breath, but really getting air deeply into your lungs and flushing out stale air is the key. There are three groups of muscles that help your breath: The Diaphragm, Intercostals and Accessory muscles.
The main muscle for breathing is the Diaphragm. It separates your chest from your abdomen and functions like a bellows. It operates by pulling and then pushing air in and out of your lungs. Second are the muscles between your ribs (the Intercostals). If you have eaten “spare ribs” those are the Intercostal muscles. Third are the Accessory muscles located at the top of your chest in the neck area. These muscles are often used for breathing when you have overexerted yourself. Commonly you may place your hands on your hips to help you breathe better. That posture recruits the Accessory muscles to your neck and upper lobes of your lungs.
When tension/stress occurs, your breathing tends to become shallow and you do not fully expand your chest.
A technique for effective DEEP Mindful breathing goes like this:
- Stand or sit straight, using good posture, supported if possible.
- Breathe in through your nose for 3-5 seconds while trying to raise your: SHOULDERS and YOUR CHEST. Fill your ABDOMEN. Your belly button goes forwards.
- HOLD for 5 seconds.
- Exhale by squeezing-in your abdomen, collapse your chest, drop your shoulders while blowing out through Pursed Lips for 5 seconds. NOTE: If you are getting light headed shorten the time periods.
- Pause. Then repeat 3-5 times SLOWLY.
Add MENTAL Imaging:
Try adding this Mental Imaging technique after your breathing exercises. When done correctly, it gives you a feeling of warmth, and a sense of heaviness of your body. In addition, you are also reducing the stress in your mind.
- Plan to spend 10-15 minutes of time for yourself. Identify a quiet place that will not be disturbed.
- Relax in a comfortable chair or on a pad on the floor, a pillow behind your knees and under your head, then close your eyes.
- Start with your head and try to sense your head slowing sinking into the pillow with each gentle breath out. After about 3-5 easy breaths, move to the next section of your body.
- Work down to your shoulders, chest, arms/hands, mid/low back, hips, legs and your lower legs and feet.
- Experience the sensation of a part of your body getting heavier and heavier as your relaxed breathing softens any tension.
- If you identify that tension is worse in one area, spend a little more time focusing your thoughts on that area.
- Near the end of your session, return to the top of your head and work your way back down to your feet. Relax or soften any areas that still feels tight.
- When you have completed this activity, spend a couple of moments increasing the excursion of your chest and diaphragm (DEEP Mindful breathing) to get more oxygen into your system as you become more alert.
- Enjoy the feeling of warmth, relaxation and peace.
There are many Video’s, books and mind-body instructors that can help you with the process. Other ways to reduce tension include: go for a walk, listen to music, talk to mellow friends, do Yoga, relaxation exercises classes or just meditate. Mental Imagery will help you zero out the conditions that have added to your stress.
Identify what works for you and make it part of your daily routine. Your ability to cope with Stress will improve. More importantly, Your Mind & Body will reward you for your efforts.
In case you missed it, The Back School is now offering a Mindfulness and Fitness Online Course which teaches easy-to-use, easy-to-teach cognitive, physical and behavioral techniques to benefit the personal self and the qualified client… LEARN MORE