13 Tips for Staying Healthy at the Office—Physically and Mentally

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When a friend recently changed careers and started working in an office for the first time, she asked me if I had any tips on staying healthy at work. For most of my adult life, I’ve worked at a desk in an office and the experiences have taught me a lot, including ways to stay healthy—and sane. Here are several habits I’ve developed to help maintain my health in the workplace.

Get up and move.
If you’re working in an office, you’re probably planted on your butt for most of the day. Studies point to the health hazards of sitting for long periods, so it’s up to us to get up and move more.

Start with simple from-here-to-there stretches. Every time you get up to use the restroom or cross the office to attend a meeting, take the opportunity to stretch. Reach up, reach out, reach back, reach down for your toes. If you spend a lot of time typing, you will also benefit from stretches designed to help prevent carpal tunnel syndrome.

To cut down on your sitting time, consider getting a standing desk, or creating your own by elevating a laptop on a pile of books. I like to alternate between standing and sitting on a yoga ball instead of a chair—it keeps me from slouching and also feels good to bounce a little while working.

Finally, rally your coworkers into scheduling time for daily movement. At a few different offices, I’ve led or participated in five-minute movement breaks with other coworkers. We’ve done everything from standing yoga poses to basic calisthenics. Also fun, if your office isn’t too conservative: occasional dance breaks.

Look around.
Staring at your computer all day can cause eye strain. Years ago, an eye doctor advised me to get up and walk to a window every hour, to look out into the distance and give my eyes a break from staring so closely at a computer screen. When you’re not able to get up, you can still take eye breaks by looking around and adjusting your focus.

Drink up.
There are numerous benefits of staying hydrated, from keeping your mind clear to maintaining gut health. Throughout the day, drink water and other good-for-you beverages such as herbal teas. In offices that are too cool from the air conditioner, I will make a cup of green tea and continually refill it with hot water to stay warm and also hydrated. Drinking a lot also necessitates trips to the bathroom, so you’ll get up and move more.

Keep your hands clean.
I accepted looking like a crazy germaphobe at work after witnessing too many people leave the bathroom without washing their hands. Nasty, I know. And then there are the ones who wipe their runny noses with their hands when they’re sick. So go ahead, use a paper towel to open the bathroom door on the way out. If your office has a hand dryer instead of paper towels, use a square of toilet paper. Also, if you’re going to use a hand sanitizer at work, choose non-toxic ones made with essential oils. I like EO and Clean Well products.

Keep your workspace and possessions clean.
Do you bring your smartphone with you to meetings or—gasp!—the bathroom? Do you throw your bag down on the floor? Don’t. Find room on your desk or a file cabinet for your bag. If you need the phone with you for meetings, be sure to clean its surface often.

You should also make an effort to keep your desk clean of dust and germs. Instead of chemical-laden cleaning products, fill a spray bottle with equal parts distilled water and vinegar (optional: add drops of lavender or tea tree oil) to maintain clean surfaces.

Take a proper lunch break.
Don’t think lunch, think lunch break. That means eating while you’re seated at your desk doesn’t count. Step away from the desk—and no one one will get hurt. (You know the emails will be there when you get back.) Getting away from your desk for a midday break can be energizing and replenishing, which is good for you and can also benefit your work. If you’re not able to take a full hour, at least make sure you eat away from your computer.

Think twice about using the fridge.
I have yet to encounter an office refrigerator that didn’t have at least one moldy container lurking in the back. I’ll bet that lunch you packed from home can safely remain bagged and unrefrigerated for the two or three hours until lunchtime. If you choose to use the fridge, be sure to wash your hands before and after you eat. (And don’t be the one who leaves that container in the back to get moldy.)

Snack wisely.
Eat a sugary snack and you’ll inevitably face the dreaded sugar crash. Keep fresh fruit and raw nuts at your desk and you’ll keep up your energy between meals. I also like to keep a stash of dark chocolate bars on hand for an afternoon treat—and to share with grateful coworkers. (Note: while healthy snacks are best for every day, going back for a second cupcake at a birthday party isn’t going to kill you…)

Get outside the office.
If you don’t go outside for lunch, plan for a short afternoon outing. Right at that point during the afternoon when you feel your energy dip and check the time to see there are two or three more hours until you get to go home—that’s the perfect time to get up and get out. Walk around the block, look up at the sky, breathe the open air.

Breathe through the stress.
The meeting that won’t end. The co-worker complaining about how the barista messed up her latte order. The manager who asks you at 5:30 p.m. to deliver a spreadsheet before the next day’s 9 a.m. team meeting. Arrggh! When you feel yourself getting frustrated, angry, or annoyed, pull back and breathe. Easier said than done? Not when you’re calculated about it—by actually counting. When stressed, you can calm yourself by inhaling slowly to the count of ten, then exhaling at the same slow pace. Repeat as needed. Is there a quiet office or conference room you can use for five minutes? Consider taking a meditation break. (You don’t have to wait for stress to get to you, either. If you find yourself with downtime, give yourself the gift of breathing time.)

Tune it out.
Are coworkers having a lively discussion about a reality show at the cubicle to your right while a conference call is on speaker phone at the cubicle to your left? There are frequent distractions and disruptions in any office and you might find yourself unable to focus. Google “online sound machine” and you’ll find sites that offer white noise options for you to plug in your earphones and tune it out. Sounds of the ocean usually works for me.

Decorate your desk area.
It may sound insignificant, but surrounding yourself with photos, art, and amusing tchotchkes is good for your state of mind. You may be spending more waking hours in your office than in your home, so it’s in your best interest to make your workspace feel welcoming and it’s easy to do by surrounding yourself with images that give you a boost. (A photo of your last vacation will be the perfect visual for when you’re having a bad moment.) Is there a quote that moves you? Print it and tape it to your computer monitor or another place you can easily glance at for inspiration.

Give yourself a break.
We can all use time to pull back from work for a few minutes. When that time comes, visit your favorite escapist blog, check your social media accounts, read the long-form article that has nothing to do with work, watch the latest viral video, listen to music, call a friend, or play an online game. Remember: all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

This & That: Spring Flowers, Birds, Butterflies

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This & That (& Green): New finds and old favorites I’m loving right now. A combination of vintage or second-hand items; beauty products and other goods made responsibly with better-for-you, non-toxic ingredients; and DIY creations. 

Spring’s arrival in Southern California is never as dramatic as in other regions, but we still welcome its arrival with the sights and sounds—birds chirping, springtime flowers blooming, and the extra light. It’s only natural to favor lighter, brighter colors and embrace floral patterns this time of year.

Pictured above:

Camellia flower in bloom.

New spring wardrobe staples—all from thrift shops—include a bright and multi-patterned Antik Batik scarf I scooped up during a lunch shopping spree with friends last week. The vintage bucket bag is from the Original Earthbags by Fred Salerno line (and it was only 10 bucks!). Because I suddenly have no interest in wearing any of my black or dark denim jackets, this fitted Esprit jacket in faded blue is going into heavy rotation.

Jewelry for spring: Bangle bracelets with floral patterns, both vintage and second-hand. The earrings and necklace are DIY creations: I made the earrings with peach glass beads from a rosary and the bird charm on the necklace is actually an old button.

Bring on the  butterflies! We have milkweed plants in the yard to attract monarch butterflies and it’s always a thrill to watch the caterpillars grow—and to see butterflies in the yard. I also picked up this seed packet to attract even more.

This & That: Strawberry Picking

This & That (& Green): New finds or old favorites I’m loving right now—vintage or second-hand items, plus beauty products and other goods made responsibly with better-for-you, non-toxic ingredients.

The strawberry plants in our yard are flowering and the gaviota strawberry variety is available from at the Santa Monica Farmers’ Market. Sweet!

Top row:

Harry’s Berries at the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market.

Second row:

Our flowering strawberry plant.

My new spring kicks: A pair of Converse Jack Purcell sneakers with a Marimekko strawberry print. I liked seeing the sneaker recycling bin at the front of the Converse store, with information on the ReUSE A SHOE recycling program with Nike.

A Ball Mason jar filled with filtered water, lemon slices, and frozen organic strawberries from Whole Foods. This idea came from the lovely Elisha Reverby, founder of the Elique Organics skin care line. I met up with Elisha at the Natural Products Expo this month on a hot day and she was sipping water from a jar just like this. She said she adds the frozen strawberries so they’ll act like ice cubes and keep the water cool—as well as sweet-tasting.

Bottom row:

Two dried strawberry snacks, both made using organic strawberries and nothing else. The first are freeze-dried and crunchy and come from Nature’s All Foods (available at Whole Foods); the second are chewy and dried using a dehydrator from a farmers’ market vendor. I’ve been reducing the amount of refined sugar in my diet and find that healthier treats like these satisfy my sweet tooth.

Strawberry-red for lips and nails from companies that use better-for-you ingredients in their beauty products: Primitive Makeup’s lip gloss in Rio, the creamiest and softest red lip gloss I’ve found; and Mineral Fusion nail polish in Fiery Lava.

Update: our strawberry plant is now in bloom—and I found my new perfect, everyday red lipstick. Logona’s lipstick is made without any synthetic colors or preservatives—and the color I chose is actually named strawberry. It’s creamy, warm, and looks like a red I wore years ago. Perfect.

Irish Eyes are Smiling: Clovers and a Claddagh Ring

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Photos of clover: around the pink flamingo in the yard, in the Santa Monica Mountains, and in the house.

The Irish Claddagh ring is a recent thrift store find. I love the design to represent love, loyalty, and friendship. Tradition holds that it should be given as a gift, but I didn’t want to pass up the bargain—only $6 and sterling silver—so I brought it home and told Mr. MVP he could give it to me (and he happily obliged). It is shown here on a vintage handkerchief embroidered with shamrocks, given to me by my mom.

The rosary beads—another thrift store find—are wood with shamrocks all around the beads. I’m a collector of rosaries and often find them rusty and broken; repairs are easily made with a pair of small pliers, and I like to use some of the beads to make upcycled earrings, bracelets, and necklaces.

Natural Products Expo: Chocolate Three Ways

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Organic chocolate three ways, sampled from Natural Products Expo West last week:

An organic chocolate bar made with quinoa from Alter Eco.

Hot chocolate from CaCoCo that’s made simply with raw dark chocolate and water.

Lip balm from Eco Lips and Dagoba Organic Chocolate. (I love Roseberry.)

Mmmm.