Wellbeing tips for the workplace
According to the Office for National Statistics, 131 million sick days are lost each year, with a huge percentage of these due to lifestyle-caused “back, neck and muscle pain.” The NHS is struggling to cope with this rising number of muscular-skeletal illness and lifestyle-related diseases caused by inactivity and spending too much time at our desks, as well as increasing stress levels at work.
Being desk-bound - like many people are these days with mounting office pressures - doesn’t help this situation, so we thought we’d give you a few handy hints for how to incorporate wellbeing in the workplace. Do you struggle with muscle pain due to your work schedule or environment, or even just with finding time to keep well at work? Don’t fall into being one of these statistics; read on for how you can keep healthy at work - without necessarily even having to leave your desk!
Prioritise and make use of lunch breaks
Having said you don’t have to leave your desk, we do advise that you do. It sounds obvious advice not to work through lunch, but yet you still find yourself skipping that special ‘you’ time! If you don’t look after yourself, who will? So, right this minute, stop what you’re doing and at the top of your ‘to-do’ list, write “Wellbeing Lunch” - and mean it. That ‘work thing’ you really needed to catch up on during your free-time can wait because, if it doesn’t, you’ll end up imbalanced and that’ll create even more pressure if you eventually end up being off sick. I know this because when I was in a desk job I found myself prioritising work over my own wellbeing – and I ended up pushing myself too far, developing Chronic Fatigue Syndrome – or lifestyle-related burn-out. Remember, when we make time for ourselves, we actually come back refreshed and more productive.
Ideas for your ‘Wellbeing Lunch’
Get up from your desk and go for a walk in nature – just getting up from your normal seated position stretches out your muscles and spine – and walking can be meditative to help clear your head too! If it’s raining, just walk in the office: remember the importance of stretching your muscles – even if it's just for 10 minutes.
Schedule a mid-day massage! Why not see if you can find a local therapist that offers half-hour massages – and, if they do aromatherapy, ask them to add in a refreshing and revitalising essential oil like Lime or Lemon to help boost your productivity for the afternoon! Remember that massages can be revitalising as well as relaxing!
Organise some lunchtime ‘yoga’ sessions – get an instructor in to teach in the office if you have enough people and space. Get moving to avoid the daily inactivity and rescue your muscles.
Blend essential oils into the office: Bring nature to you!
Essential oils are natural plant extracts; so bring nature to yourself if you really can’t get outside. Before you even arrive at work, try a personalised essential oil blend to help with your muscular-skeletal issues. Oils such as Black Pepper, Peppermint, Lavender and Sweet Marjoram are particularly excellent for helping muscle and joint aches and pains, so why not mix up to 5 drops of essential oil in 12ml of carrier oil and self-massage into your tense areas in the morning before work, so the oils can work their magic throughout the day? Take your blend to the office in a bottle and re-apply during the day too!
Just smelling essential oils can also keep you feeling relaxed at work, which helps to relieve tension. If your colleagues are happy with the idea, try diffusing different aromatherapy blends each day, with oils to help the different wellbeing challenges you are all facing. Make it fun; you could design a rota for who gets to pop the oils in the diffuser on which day, and make it a morning ritual to all have an input into choosing the blend first thing in the morning when you get in, whilst brewing a cuppa! Here are my top recommendations for the workplace:-
Lavender essential oil – great for physical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing, it helps any muscular system imbalances like sprains, strains, inflammation, tension and spasms, but is also an all-round versatile oil that relaxes the nervous system, helps headaches, migraines, insomnia, stress, anxiety, immunity, balances the skin and is uplifting. Don’t send the office to sleep though – try it with something a bit more stimulating like Peppermint, Lemon or Rosemary! If people don’t like the scent, try Sweet Marjoram as a similar alternative.
Peppermint essential oil – again a great oil for the muscular-system, but it is also quite stimulating for the mind. It also helps headaches, and is great for digestion, as well as working on the respiratory system.
Lemon essential oil – this is a great oil for sharpening mental concentration and enhancing memory. Combined with Rosemary, this can really help create focus in the office. Lemon itself can help arthritis and rheumatism, but it is also uplifting and anti-viral!
Eucalyptus essential oil – this is another great office essential oil. Helping muscular-skeletal issues, it also helps boost immunity. Try combining with Juniperberry and Lemon for a detoxing blend.
Basil essential oil – is ideal for the workplace, healing muscular aches and pains, clearing headaches and improving concentration and aiding decision-making.
Geranium essential oil - you could also include something floral like Geranium for a really nurturing, and emotionally and hormonally balancing blend, that still works on the muscular system. Great for balancing feelings of frustration in the workplace!
A note of caution: please check with a GP before using these oils if you have someone in the office with blood pressure imbalances or someone who is pregnant, as essential oils can be over-stimulating in these circumstances.
However essential oils get into your system, whether via massage or your sense of smell, they will go to where they are needed and start working to improve your body’s ability to heal itself. Remember to select the ones you like the smell of because these are the ones you need – get everybody involved in smelling the oils each day to select your favourites!
Bring 'Chair Yoga' to your desk
For a real wellbeing boost in the office – and, if you really haven’t got time for more than a quick break at lunch - set up an electric diffuser or candle burner on your desk with some of the above essential oils – Myrrh and Sweet Orange is also a great meditative essential oil blend for this - and try these simple ‘chair yoga’ exercises during the working day. Keep moving – wherever you can!
- Centre yourself on your chair, close your eyes and notice your natural breath pattern. What is it like? Count your breath - is your inhale longer than your exhale or your exhale longer than your inhale? Try and mindfully lengthen your exhale to be longer than your inhale. Think about where you are feeling tense in your body, and let that part of your body relax. Open your eyes and begin the following moves:
- Shoulder shrugs and rolls– inhale as you lift and shrug your shoulders to your ears, exhale as you release them back down. Roll your shoulders forwards for 5 breath cycles (inhale/exhale) and backwards for 5 breath cycles.
- Neck rolls – gentle and slowly, take your chin to your chest and, starting at centre, roll your head to the right and back to centre, and then to the left and back to centre. Repeat for a few breaths.
- Spinal roll – sitting up tall on the front of your seat, start to roll your chin towards the centre of your chest, and roll down your body through every vertebra, aiming to reach your head to your knees or the floor – wherever you can get to! Roll back up, vertebra by vertebra, and repeat 2 more times. You can also try this standing and try to roll until you are in a forward fold. Grab each elbow with your opposite hand and hang there for a few minutes; this is a good time to stretch your legs too – try bending and straightening your knees as you let your head and arms fall down with gravity.
- Side stretches – seated in your chair, with your arms at the side of your body, turn your right palm facing up, inhale and sweep your arm up to the sky and reach up and over your head, stretching and lengthening up through the right side of your body, but keeping your bum on the seat. Exhale the arm back down. Repeat a few times and then repeat on the left side.
- Wide leg forward fold – open your legs wide either side of your chair, toes pointing out, and slowly lean forwards, allowing your arms and head to fall to the floor. Release slowly and repeat.
- Spinal twist – sit up tall, take your right hand to your left knee and your left arm behind you in your chair. With a long spine, start to twist to the left through the upper body, keeping the hips facing forward, and turn your head to the left, keeping your shoulders parallel to the floor. Breathe here for a few breath cycles and then come back to centre and repeat on the right side.
- Pelvic tilts – focusing your attention on your lower back, tilt your pelvis back and forth to lengthen and shorten the natural curvature of the lumbar spine, without moving your legs or upper body. Pull your pelvis underneath your body to lengthen and elongate the lower spine, and then push it backwards to counteract this with a shortening of the natural curvature. Finish by finding a position that is midway – this is your neutral spine.
- Seated meditation – end your routine with a bit of mindfulness. Sit into your chair and close your eyes. In your mind, start to scan the body, thinking about each body part from your head to your toes. Ask yourself: ‘where do I feel tension, where do I feel stress? Is it in my body or my mind?’ When you find the tension, concentrate on physically relaxing the tense parts of the body – or if it is mental or emotional stress, acknowledge these thoughts, thank them for being there and visualise sending the thoughts away – perhaps imagine them in the diffuser, being dispersed into the air with the essential oils. Consciously give yourself permission to relax for 5 minutes – and, when you’re ready, you can bring yourself back to the desk feeling that little bit more peaceful and proactive – and a lot less tense!
Whatever you decide to try to improve your work-life wellbeing, remember the reason you’re trying to incorporate it. Be mindful about the fact that back, neck and muscle pain is one of the largest causes of the UK’s 131 million sick days. If you notice yourself becoming desk-bound, think about how you can alter this and add a little bit of activity and nature back into your day!
Guest Blogger & Consultant Aromatherapist