HER HEALTH: Women's Health at Work

Many people spend most waking hours at work, so integrating attention to your health at work has become a necessary part of life (Photo/Dom O'Halloran).

Achieving balance is hard. You have so many goals and aspirations, so much to do and so many people you care about. Keeping all those priority balls in the air sometimes feels like an overwhelming juggling act. Did you drop a ball? Was it your health?

Many people spend most waking hours at work, so integrating attention to your health at work has become a necessary part of life. Not just necessary, but essential, in order to avoid burnout and maintain that juggling act. Self-care means taking time for yourself. At work, this can be as simple as adopting healthy habits, such as taking regular breaks, standing up and moving around, taking meditation breaks and incorporating purposeful times for movement throughout your workday to reduce the risk of physical strain from inertia. If you’re looking for ideas, there are even books on the subject, like “The Professional Posture Program – Upgrade Your Upright,” written by Amina Hafez. Work-friendly stretching and yoga exercises are something you can do at your desk to prevent pain and health issues associated with sitting at a desk too long. Outside of work hours, adopt exercise every day to keep your body moving. Nurture yourself so you can keep nurturing others. 

Healthy eating at work is a daily challenge. Avoid prepackaged, processed foods. Instead, grab a Ziplock bag and fill it with chopped veggies before you head out the door. Or, try meal prepping for a week and see the difference it can make in how you feel. Prepare and eat healthy meals rather than hitting the drive-through window. You owe it to yourself to discover the difference that healthy food can make in how healthy you feel. Just like the saying: food is medicine.

You have a right to a safe and healthy work environment, and enjoying your work can enhance your mental health. A decent work environment gives you a sense of purpose, a daily routine (which integrates healthy sleep patterns and other healthy habits), a livelihood and, hopefully, a social support network of positive relationships. It is important that you feel safe at work. Creating a culture of safety takes daily vigilance in some industries, but with education, situational awareness, and mitigative strategies, we can create safer workplaces where we can focus on the job before us and not what might be lurking behind us.

If you struggle with maintaining your mental health, you are not alone. About 15% of working-age adults had a mental disorder in 2019. In the workplace, poor mental health affects productivity and is likely to affect morale and healthy work culture. According to the World Health Organization, about 12 billion working days are lost every year to depression and anxiety at a cost of $1 trillion per year in lost productivity globally. Many employers realize the impact of poor mental health on their bottom line and provide access to mental health professionals at work. If you are not so fortunate to have this perk, telepsychology visits can be done virtually and are much easier to squeeze into a busy schedule.

According to the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, 60% of adults in the U.S. have a chronic disease. Managing a chronic disease at work has its own set of challenges. Make sure you know your limits, ask for accommodations, make self-care a priority, communicate with your employer, appropriately monitor your health, and build a healthy support group at work. Coworkers can support each other’s health goals and provide encouragement. 

You can build and maintain a fulfilling career while still making your health a priority. It really comes down to making yourself a priority. You are the owner of your health. Your daily behaviors are all decisions either for or against a healthier you. Let every decision cast a vote for your health and support those around you to do the same. No one can create a healthy future but you. 

Dr. Lenora Adams is an internist who serves in administrative roles for SSM Health. She is the Regional President of SSM Medical Group Mid-Missouri, Regional Chief Medical Officer Mid-Missouri, and System Vice President Patient Care Optimization for SSM Health.