Putting your heart into your work is a phrase that plenty of us are familiar with. While it may be an admirable work ethic, some people inadvertently take it too literally. As reports of job stress increases, the negative impact it has on health and wellness has become more prevalent. Short of packing things up and retiring to a private island (one can only dream!), what can we do to prevent our hearts from redlining? With World Heart Day coming up on 29 September, we have some top tips on how to look after your heart.
Stress is Subjective
One man’s meat is another man’s poison. Not all of us react to work the same way–what you find stressful might be a walk in the park for someone else. Yet the ways stress in the workplace affect our heart health are far from ambiguous:
- Panic attacks and spikes in blood pressure.
- Emotional volatility and violent outbursts.
- Poor sleep quality and low focus.
- Compromised immune system.
- Stress/binge eating as a coping mechanism.
Stress can be divided into two types: short and long-term. Looming deadlines and double shifts may sound bad in theory, but the human body is surprisingly adept at handling short-term stress—even mental ones. However, long-term stress—like a new boss who micro-manages every single thing that you do—is a different story altogether. In both cases, your body produces hormones like adrenaline and cortisol as part of a natural survival response. When these hormones fail to dissipate after long periods of time, cholesterol levels increase and so does your risk of heart disease.
Keeping the Heart Strong
Proper nutrition and active living might be instrumental to good heart health, but even the best of efforts can be compromised when they’re exposed to a constant barrage of stress factors. Here are some measures you can take at the workplace (or any similar setting) to keep your heart strong:
Limit alcohol consumption
Yes, after work drinks on a Friday can be tempting, especially when everyone else at the office is doing it. However, it is all too easy for a drinking habit to spiral out of control. The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention lists excessive alcohol consumption as one of the top five lifestyle-related factors of heart disease, so this is far from an old wives’ tale. Many corporate wellness programs have ways to monitor your alcohol intake.
Even if you’re a non-smoker, second-hand smoke can still affect you. If your social circle at work comprises regular smokers, then you may want to consider distancing yourself whenever they go and light up. Inhaling the smoke from others can lead to atherosclerosis, which can cause a heart attack or stroke. Organisations should ensure designated smoking areas are kept well away from non-smokers.
Regular health screenings
Some companies make regular health screenings mandatory for all employees. For those who are presented with an open option, you’d be remiss not to take advantage of it. Health screenings can help identify early signs of heart disease, allowing one to take action and receive treatment post-haste. The earlier the treatment, the higher the chance of making a complete recovery.
Most stressed employees end up feeling this way due to their perception of being alone in their struggles. In such cases, having someone to lend a listening ear can be a soothing balm for even the most troubled of souls. Talking to a more experienced colleague who’s “been there, done that” might shed some new light on a grim situation. Sometimes, a new perspective might be all that you need to get things going again. As an employer, try encouraging a culture where your employees feel comfortable opening up to each other.
You don’t have to roll out the yoga mat if you don’t want to, but basic practices like deep breathing and silent contemplation can be done in a workplace setting without creating a spectacle. Stuck at the desk for hours? Take a few minutes off for a short walk. Another key consideration of meditative practices is proper posture–something that is often lacking in the workplace. When combined with chest breathing, poor posture can affect your lungs’ ability to fully inflate and deflate. This lapse in oxygen intake and carbon dioxide expiration can raise one’s blood pressure, so don’t be a slouch (literally) at work! If you’re in charge of employee wellness, consider setting up regular meditation sessions for your workforce.
Heart disease can be mitigated through healthy behaviours. In a workplace environment, we often find ourselves forgoing common sense for the sake of productivity and “blending in”. While the thought of numerous work accolades might seem enticing, it should not have to come at the expense of your health. Your heart might be in your work, but you don’t want to reach a point where your heart NEEDS work.
To discuss how our digital wellness solution can keep your workforce “heart-healthy”, contact the WellteQ team.