When did it become cool for everyone to start bragging about how crazy busy they are? As someone who prides herself on having a strong work ethic, I get the value of working hard, but busy-bragging? What’s the good in that?
Most of us weren’t born as heirs and heiresses to billion-dollar empires, which means working hard to put food on the table is a necessity. But that doesn’t mean we should compromise our sanity and put health on the back burner.
Here are five surprising ways your nine-to-five (or, let’s be real, your eight-to-nine) could be putting your health at risk. Believe it or not, stress doesn’t always come just from dealing with your boss.
1. You sit at a desk all day long.
If you’re in a field like IT or human resources, you have one (and maybe only one) thing in common: sitting for long, long periods of time (like, all day long). While sitting is not the new smoking (it's really not), being sedentary isn't good for anyone, nor is holding the same position all day. The good news? Research shows you can counteract the effects of your desk job by being active in the hours you're not working. Since that can be a tall order for folks whose job makes them just want to come home and plop down on the couch, you can also sneak in extra steps throughout the day.
"Set a timer on your watch or your phone every hour to get up and walk," says Jennifer Caudle, D.O., family physician and associate professor at the Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine. Caudle also suggests parking farther away from your office and standing while doing certain tasks, such as phone calls. Bonus: Research shows tapping your feet while sitting can help increase blood flow to the legs.
2. You skip—or rush through—lunch.
When did convincing ourselves we aren't worthy of taking a 30-minute (or even an hour!) lunch become OK? Answering emails while scarfing down leftovers might seem like you’re killing two birds with one stone, but you could be doing more harm than good. Eating your lunch while sitting in front of a computer screen "doesn’t facilitate a relaxed setting," Caudle says.
If you skip lunch frequently, you probably find yourself snacking more often throughout the day or overeating by the time dinner rolls around. Aim for smaller meals every three to five hours. Some studies suggest eating frequently is an important factor for maintaining weight loss. Eating frequency is higher in weight loss maintainers and normal-weight individuals than in overweight individuals. Bachman JL, Phelan S, Wing RR. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 2011, Dec.;111(11):1878-3570.
3. You always say yes to overtime.
I don’t think there’s anyone on this planet who doesn’t enjoy having extra money in their pockets, and personally, I can attest the extra cash I earned while working overtime at my last job was awesome—at first. But I soon realized those extra bucks were interfering with my much-needed downtime. To quote Beyoncé, "I done got so sick and filthy with Benjis, I can't spend it."
Folks who punch in 40-plus hours per week often complain about not having any downtime or not getting enough rest. And if you think working longer shifts increases your productivity, there’s evidence suggesting lack of sleep can affect our cognitive performance, such as the ability to concentrate. Setting boundaries early on can help offset any pressure to say yes to overtime if you’re asked more than once.
4. You answer emails before going to bed.
Living in a society that’s technology driven is a blessing because it allows us to stay connected no matter where we are in the world, but it’s also a curse... because it allows us to stay connected no matter where we are in the world.
Tapping into email right before bedtime means you’re still thinking about work even after you’ve left, and that’s a problem. Bedtime mobile phone use and sleep in adults. Exelmans L, Van den Bulck J. Social science & medicine (1982), 2015, Dec.;148():1873-5347. It’s normal to feel like you might miss out on something important if you’re not plugged in 24/7, but I’m pretty sure those emails about who’s bringing cupcakes to Thursday’s meeting can wait until the morning. If your position really requires you to be plugged in more than what’s considered normal, set limits for yourself. Make an agreement with yourself to stop answering emails or texts at least two hours before going to bed.
5. You don’t speak up during meetings.
I’m a firm believer in picking your battles in the workplace, but choosing to remain silent on the issues that affect you and your job is disempowering. Of course there’s fear of retribution, but consistently not speaking up during meetings only leads to anger, resentment, and bitterness, which is guaranteed to come back and bite you in the ass. "If we regularly fail to speak up during meetings, we aren’t bringing our full selves to the meeting, and it’s easy to feel disconnected," says career coach and wellness trainer Cynthia Pong. "If we are disconnected from the organization and its mission, it won’t be too long before we start going through the motions without caring about the quality of our work."
What’s more likely to get you reprimanded? Expressing your concerns in a calm, professional manner or snapping at your boss? A true leader will value your ideas, even if it means respectfully disagreeing with theirs.
Princess Gabbara is a Michigan-based journalist and storyteller whose work has been published across several publications, including Ebony, Jetmag.com, Essence.com, Sesi, HelloBeautiful.com, and Huffington Post Women. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @PrincessGabbara.