Treating Ourselves Well in the 9-to-5

A little while ago, I strained my low back...again. It was the worst back spasm and aftermath that I have had in years, and it laid me flat on my back for three days. When it was time to return to work, I was scared. My job requires me to sit at my desk for a lot of the day doing emails and various administrative tasks. How would this work for me? Sitting all day is not healthy at the best of times, but especially when dealing with back injuries. I worked through it last week, but this week I am getting more strategic and focused about cleaning up my act at work so that I feel more healthy, happy, and comfortable all around. Here is what I am trying to do this week:

Drink water throughout the day

We all know that drinking water is healthy for us. It gives us energy and helps us think more clearly. And we may also know something about the negative effects of not getting enough water. So...

  • Before you even sit down at your desk in the morning, fill up a water bottle or mug so that you can drink it all morning.
  • Aim to do this again at lunch time so that you'll drink water all day.
  • Try to drink a glass of water with each meal.
  • Of course, this will also make you need to use the restroom more, which leads to the next point...

Stand up often

So, this is my main thing...and the thing that I never do enough. I get caught up in work and "one more thing" and all of a sudden two hours have gone by and I am stiff and sore

  • Get up from the desk every 20-30 minutes.
  • Set a timer to reminder you when it's time to get up.
  • When you're up, do some self-care: use the restroom (why/how do I forget to do this?!), roll out your neck, stretch your calves against the wall, give your arms a mini-massage, have a snack. Do whatever will feel good.
  • Most breaks don't have to be long; just a couple of minutes is enough to reset your posture and focus.
  • Once or twice a day, take a little longer break: go and visit a colleague, walk around the block, do a short errand.
  • Consider whether you can do certain tasks or meetings standing up.

Bring snacks

Hunger is a silent destroyer of concentration and motivation which can hit mid-morning or mid-afternoon...and sometimes we don't realize that we're hungry, just that we are tired, unfocused, or "fading." I like to keep some snacks in my desk (unsalted mixed nuts and beef jerky) and bring some to work with me each day.

  • Try to combine protein, fat, and complex carbohydrates to make a snack that sticks.
  • Ideas: Broccoli/hummus, Greek yogurt/blueberries/pecans, Granny Smith apple/almond butter, beef jerky/Lara Bar

Keep returning to mindfulness!

So, none of these tips will work if we forget about them. There are times when I have brought my snacks to work and had the water bottle at my desk and never looked up from work long enough to actually make use of them, let alone get up and walk around. The key to all of these healthy behaviors is mindfulness.

  • Put a sticker, notecard, Post-It on your desk that will catch your eye and remind you to be mindful. Make your reminder striking and change it up so that you don't get used to it and not see it anymore.
  • Are you using your chair correctly-- sitting against the back rest, etc.?
  • Are your shoulders and neck clenched or tense?
  • Are you feeling overwhelmed, scared, bored? (Maybe it's time to take a little break...)

Training ourselves in this way can have huge effects on our physical and mental health at work. So far this week, I have eaten at least one snack each day and drunk at least one bottle of water. Monday I got up from the desk a lot in the morning, and today my appointments and meetings had me out and about more. I'm not doing all of these tips perfectly everyday, but there is a significant change, and it feels good.

This low back pain is not fun at all,  but I recognize that it makes me much more mindful of my posture and makes me pay attention more. The pain and the fear of pain forces me to focus more on self-care-- resting, being easy on myself, and slowing down.

I'd love to hear from you about your tips for treating yourself well at work. What do you do to take good care of yourself?