from the Healthy Living area
by Pamela M. Peeke, MD, MPH
It’s usually easy to tune out the minor irritants our work and home environments throw our way. Most irritants aren’t major health risks. But, watch out. When minor environmental irritants turn toxic, your surroundings can make you more vulnerable to chronic stress.
Take a minute now to look around the room you are sitting in. Use all your senses to detect any of these common environmental stressors:
- Too much noise
- Unpleasant odors
- Uncomfortable furniture
- Bad lighting
- Poor ventilation
How many have you identified?
Now, look around for things you easily can change and do so.
Many of us can’t make significant changes in our surroundings, particularly at work. So, we need to use our stress-solving skills to buffer ourselves against toxic environmental stress.
Try these problem-solving suggestions for the following environmental stressors:
Climate Control-Your Office or Theirs?
If you have a client or co-worker who loves extreme temperatures -either freezing or tropical — that interfere with your productivity or attention span, suggest that you have meetings in your office.
If someone in the office consistently comes to work bathed in the latest perfume, anonymously suggest to the office manager that you adopt a “scent free” office (we have this policy and it works well).
You are sure to feel overwhelmed if your surroundings are cluttered. To combat clutter, keep only your current project materials in view. You will feel more confident and be better able to concentrate.
Consider rearranging the furniture so that you face away from the line of sight, if you work in an office cubicle. With your desk turned around you have more control over when people can catch your eye. Your co-workers may be less likely to needlessly interrupt you.
Ear Protection, Please
Bring earplugs to work, if your office is noisy, or try to escape to an empty conference room for a temporary “noise break.”
When de-stressing your surroundings, you can’t address all the stressors at one time. Carry a notebook with you and write down environmental sources of stress when you notice them. Just having that list will empower you. You might even enlist significant others in your life to help trouble shoot solutions with you.
Here are more stress-busting ideas to use to de-stress your environment:
- In the office, take breaks to look out the window. Don’t have one nearby? Take a break once an hour, find a window and look outside. Focusing your eyes at a distant view will cause your eye muscle to relax. Looking at nature also has a proven calming effect.
- At home and work, use calming pictures and muted pastel colors to soothe you.
- Play soft music in the background — whatever you like. It’s quite calming and can act as “white noise” to neutralize toxic noises in your environment.
- Personalize your office space with family photos and pictures of pets and favorite vacation spots. Look at them often.
- Combat clutter. At home, if you haven’t used something within the past year consider tossing, selling or giving it away.
- At home, impose a TV-time limit on yourself (and others). TVs in the living room are the ultimate noise pollution. Try moving the TV to a new location where you don’t see (and turn it on) so readily. Definitely get the TV out of the bedroom – watching TV in bed can interfere with your sleep patterns and cause you to develop sleep-related problems.
- Decorate with soothing objects to look at — things that give you pleasure to see every day. These things are important to have in your living and working space.
Choose low-end ways to de-stress your surroundings if high-priced solutions are out of reach. If that $500 ergonomically correct chair isn’t realistic, what about a beautiful $10 pillow to sit up against? Or, a small stool to support your feet and ease your lower back? Do you have a comforting screen-saver? A beach view or the universe works nicely.
Be creative! See if you can make your surroundings a bit less stressful today.
For more information on the health topics mentioned in this article visit the HealthyWomen.org areas below.
Managing Stress: www.healthywomen.org/ages-and-stages/healthy-living/managing-stress
Anxiety and Depression Center: www.healthywomen.org/healthcenter/anxiety-and-depression
Mental Health Center: www.healthywomen.org/healthcenter/mental-health
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