As you read this article, take a few minutes to remove your hands from your computer and stretch out your arms and fingers. Microbreaks like these throughout the day can help ensure your work routine, whatever it may be, does not cause stress on your body or your mind.
Every day, Clare McNamara meets Stanford faculty and staff who have chronic pain, injuries, and illnesses that occur at work. She is a physician assistant at the Stanford University Occupational Health Center (SUOHC), the campus-based medical clinic that opened in 2007 to offer evaluation and treatment for work-related health issues, as well as preventative medical services and job-related health surveillance. She works alongside Medical Director Dr. Rich Wittman and nurse practitioner Erin Davis at their 480 Oak Road location, and nurse practitioner Matt DeAngelis at their SLAC location.
The Cardinal at Work (CaW) Insider recently spoke with Clare about an influx of visits by employees since she started with SUOHC in 2011, and provides helpful tips that may improve your health and reduce stress.
CaW Insider: What are common reasons for employees visiting the Occupational Health Center?
CM: We see repetitive-motion injuries frequently. This can stem from computer tasks, repetitive tasks (for example, pipetting in labs or scrubbing to clean), or other material handling, such as chopping. Trips and falls are also common—especially when one is distracted by the phone or in a rush. We also treat acute injuries like non-emergent lacerations, sudden pain while lifting, animal bites, and blood borne pathogen or chemical exposures.
CaW Insider: What can people do to prevent some of these injuries?
CM: The three best ways to prevent these injuries are:
CaW Insider: How important is reducing stress to improving your overall physical health?
CM: The majority of the injuries I see are worsened by stress. We skip breaks and work longer hours when we have too large of a work load, a pressing deadline, or are short-staffed, etc. This leads to rushing, reduced self-awareness, and exhaustion. This is when injuries occur. Our bodies can also manifest stress as pain.
Ironically, when we are stressed, we also tend to skip stress-busting activities that could help us if we made them a priority. We miss workouts/physical activity, stay indoors (away from nature), skip routine medical appointments, and fail to connect with family and friends during our most pressed times. Those actions we "just don't have time for right now" might be the exact thing that could help us relax, focus, and actually be more efficient as we work.
CaW Insider: Is there anything managers could do to support employees in their work health?
CM: Communication between managers and employees is vital to everyone's health. A manager should not just say they want employees to practice safe and ergonomic work habits, they should model them as well. If your employees perceive resistance to obtaining ergonomic equipment, they may not ask for items that could make them safer. If employees never see their manager take his or her eyes off the computer, then they might feel discouraged from taking a microbreak. (Chances are the manager is overly stressed, as well!)
Acquiring ergonomic equipment in a timely manner and implementing or encouraging ergonomic best practices as a routine and as an expected part of an employee's workday will foster a work environment where healthy habits are the norm.
Employee stress levels can be reduced greatly when managers can identify ways to support work-life integration. Flexible work schedules can help employees reduce the time they spend sitting in the car/commuting before they get to work and sit at a computer. Not every position at Stanford can accommodate this, but it can be very helpful!
To learn more or schedule an appointment, contact the Occupational Health Center at 650-725-5308. For emergent injuries, call 9-1-1 or visit the nearest Emergency Room for initial care.