5 Ways Your Office Is Giving You a Headache (and what you can do about it!)
Cameron Craig, Storyteller, View Inc.

5 Ways Your Office Is Giving You a Headache (and what you can do about it!)

If you suffer from frequent headaches and/or migraines, your office may be the problem. Migraines cost Americans an estimated $36 billion annually in lost productivity and health care expenses. Here are five ways your workplace might be giving you a headache and tips on what you can do about it.

1. Toxic Air

Indoor air quality is an often forgotten aspect of our lives that can seriously impact our health. According to the EPA, our indoor environment is two to five times more toxic than our outdoor environment and on average Americans are spending about 90 percent of their lives indoors!

There are pollutants in the air conditioning, toxic particles, dangerous bacteria, and mold all floating around the atmosphere, especially in buildings that aren’t well taken care of. Cleaning products often don’t help either. They can lead to headaches, dizziness and fatigue, and even respiratory diseases, heart disease, and cancer.

Get up at least once every hour and get some fresh air. Try to walk outside, or take a walk around the building. Get a portable air filter. Some headache sufferers even get portable oxygen tanks delivered for oxygen therapy. Buy an indoor air quality monitor to measure your indoor environment and inform you about changes and trends in particle concentration.

2. Sitting

You’ve heard it, “sitting is the new smoking.” At a minimum, excessive sitting can lead to chronic pain and tension headaches.


Photo by Carl Collins

Office jobs tend to require a lot of sitting - something our bodies weren’t really designed to do for long stretches. Sitting is a problem for many reasons, let alone sitting for long hours and in the wrong position.

The typical “goose-neck” pose we all get when staring at the screen (head jutting forward, shoulders hunched) increases the curve in the mid back, straining the upper neck. Constant slumping actually makes the head heavier, further straining the muscles in the neck. The result? Pain that crawls up into the head.

Set the timer on your phone or computer, for every 15 minutes or 30 minutes and when the timer goes off take quick stock of where your shoulders are and if they are slumping in your chair. When the alarm goes off it is also not a bad idea to stand up and allow the muscles to reset. Muscles need blood flow in order for them to function properly and not tighten up. Just standing at your desk for even a minute will allow for increased blood flow and may save yourself a headache.

3. Uncomfortable Shoes

Leonardo Da Vinci was on point when he called the human foot “a masterpiece of engineering and a work of art.”

Can you imagine the burden that is generated when the full force of your body weight is crushing down on the base of your toes rather than being evenly distributed to all 26 bones of each foot? Wearing uncomfortable shoes may eventually lead to spinal injuries, muscle spasms, and chronic headaches.

According to this article on health.com, uncomfortable footwear such as high heels throw your body’s alignment out of whack. “When you wear heels, you change your center of balance, leading to increased curvature of your back,” says Judy F. Baumhauer, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon and president of the American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society (AOFAS) . This can lead to the discs in your spine breaking down, as well as muscle spasms and pain throughout the body, and yes, maybe even chronic headaches or migraines.

Runners, Ugg boots, and stylish sneakers are great for the office. Look for ‘comfort fashion’ shoes that just might save you a ton on future medical bills.

4. Fast Food

Office workers love fast food as a way to satisfy cravings and fill up quickly on the go. But that takeout lunch special may be causing your headaches. Many fast foods contain MSG (monosodium glutamate) a popular food additive used in a wide range of processed, packaged, and restaurant foods. Like other headache triggers, MSG launches its attack by dilating blood vessels and exciting certain nerves in the brain.

HEADACHE-fast-food Photo by ebruli

Processed foods, including those on the menus of fast-food joints, contain ingredients like nitrate or nitrite, and artificial sweeteners that increase blood flow, leading to head pressure and pain. Food processors add it to their meat products to protect against Clostridium botulinum, the bacteria that causes food poisoning, and because it gives the meat that fresh, pink color and “cured” taste.

The best bet is to bring a home-cooked meal, packed with vegetables, proteins, and healthy grains to work. If that’s not an option, try to choose a lighter, healthier option on the restaurant menu at least a few times per week. Also, always ask for your food to be prepared without MSG or seasoning salt (which contains MSG) the next time you’re ordering take-out.

Another trick is to keep healthy snacks on your desk – nuts, fruit, a small yogurt, or even some dark chocolate. That way you won’t starve before lunch or have the urge to run to the communal fast food drawer or the Girl Scout cookies.

5. Lighting

Do your eyes hurt, burn or itch after a day at work? Poor lighting may be to blame for your symptoms. Many companies use inexpensive fluorescent lighting to light large areas because it’s a fairly inexpensive option. Unfortunately, your eyes pay the price.

HEADACHE-dark-office Photo by tripu

There are three ways office lighting can trigger headaches -
- The glare on computer screens from any overhead lighting
- The glare from overhead incandescent lighting
- The flicker from fluorescent lighting

This forces your visual cortex to compensate for the large changes in illumination which stresses your brain out. Basically you overload your system to receive large amounts of light and visual information without allowing your brain to relax and process the information. As a result, in some people, the brain can handle this amount of input which creates migraines, headaches, and discomfort when dealing with office lighting.

Working in a dimly lit environment can be just as uncomfortable as working under bright lights. Dim light can cause eyestrain and make your eyes feel tired quicker. Not surprisingly, productivity can suffer when there’s not enough light.

If you can’t stand the lights in your office, you’re not alone. A study conducted by the American Society of Interior Designers showed that 68 percent of employees were dissatisfied with the lighting quality in their offices. Lighting is considered one of the most important factors in ergonomics, but too often this part of an office’s design is overlooked, rushed, or sacrificed for style.

Windows are the number one determinant of an employee’s satisfaction with a building. Natural lighting not only affects how well we are able to see, but it can also boost our mood, energy level, and hormonal balance. It can reduce absenteeism, owing to fewer illnesses as well as less overwork fatigue, which means more time off for employees to recharge batteries.

However, natural light comes with the unwanted side effects of heat and glare. Have you ever seen your colleagues cover up a window with paper or a trade show prop to reduce glare? You’re not alone.

Luckily, there is a better alternative. The next generation of auto-tinting “smart” windows from companies like View Dynamic Glass adapt to and control the sun’s energy to optimize natural light and reduce glare - no blinds required.

According to a new study conducted by Alan Hedge, a professor in the Department of Design and Environmental Analysis at Cornell, optimizing the amount of natural light in an office significantly improves health and wellness among workers. Specifically, it found workers in offices with View Dynamic Glass reported a 63 percent drop in the incidence of headaches.

As companies increasingly look to empower their employees to work better and be healthier, the study found it clear that placing them in office spaces with the optimal amount of natural light should be one of their first considerations.

1. Use the 20-20-20 rule. Every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break and focus your eyes on something at least 20 feet away.
2. Ask your co-workers to join you in requesting healthier lighting choices such as “smart windows” from companies like View Dynamic Glass.

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