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Create a Healthy Workplace with the Help of Alternative Therapies

Aug 18, 2008
In Chinese, the word for crisis has two characters. One character is for "problem," the other for "opportunity." As absenteeism, disability claims and employee turnover increase, we find ourselves in a workplace health-care crisis.

In a 2001 study entitled, Increasing Participation in Corporate Wellness Programs: A Segmentation Study of Employee Differences, Paula Haynes of the University of Tennessee underlines how important it is to provide a wide variety of services in corporate health and wellness programs to address our healthy workplace crisis.

Although some people still do not buy into alternative or "ethnic" medicine and therapies, many people do, and it's not just individuals. The Government of Canada and major businesses like the Royal Bank of Canada are acknowledging the effectiveness of various massage therapies, acupuncture and acupressure, among others. Empirical testing has proven many of these therapies work, so government, business and employee assistance programs are incorporating them into their approved service listings.

These alternative therapies often focus on health prevention, promotion and maintenance, unlike traditional western medicine where we only treat patients who are already sick. This is good news for corporations who have to foot the bill for workplace injuries, decreased productivity, higher insurance costs, etc.

Several of these alternative therapies target muscles and joints where problems can occur, for example, stiffness from sitting still and pain due to repetitive activity. If you're sitting at your desk, slouching at the end of a tiring day, stressed about deadlines and staring at a computer screen, but focusing instead on your headache, stiff neck, sore hands, or aching back, you are not alone.

This situation is a common one for many. In fact, according to a 2000 Integra Survey, a random telephone survey of 1,305 working adults in the United States, 62 percent of respondents routinely ended their day with work-related neck pain, 44 percent reported sore eyes, 38 percent complained of aching hands, and 34 percent reported difficulty in sleeping because they felt too stressed.

You could suffer until your next holiday or you could quit your job, but neither of these options is likely suitable. Happily, wellness practices, such as those employed in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) can be instrumental in helping to cope with the stresses at work.

Decompress the Stress
TCM identifies seven emotions as injurious to our health: extreme anger, joy, worry, pensiveness, sadness, fear, and shock. While it is important to feel each of these emotions at appropriate times, when the emotion is especially intense or is felt over a prolonged period of time, particularly if it is not expressed, it can cause illness.

Be aware of your stress level when you eat. When the body is under stress, it tends to act like an overheated engine, so it is best to avoid spicy, hot foods. Stay away from greasy, heavy, fatty, and sugary foods, which are also difficult to digest. Eat regular meals instead, away from your desk.

Be Alert, Don't Overexert
You might not think that sitting at your desk all day is overexerting yourself, but it can, in fact, cause many physiological problems. Some muscles are underused, while others may be used too much.

A classic TCM book, "The Yellow Emperor's Canon of Medicine" (Dolphin Books, 1977) states that excessive use of the eyes injures the blood (which nourishes and supports mental activity), excessive sitting injures the muscles, and excessive standing injures the bones. Thus, if you stare at a computer all day, you should consciously blink more often and look away periodically. If you sit all day, be sure to get up and move. If you stand all day, sit whenever you can, if only for a couple of minutes at a time to create a healthy workplace for yourself.

Relieve the Pressure
If you feel pain and discomfort during the day, acupressure can be used to help relieve the tension. Try massaging sore shoulders and neck. For your lower back, try making a loose fist and lightly knocking on the muscles beside the spine.

More Help
When these solutions are not enough, seek treatment from a professional. Acupuncture has been used for thousands of years to treat pain and other illnesses. Chinese herbs, nutrition, tui na massage, and other TCM treatments can be used as well for pain and stress management.

Your Heavy Head
If you don't believe that office work can be physically demanding, think about the amount of work that your neck muscles must do while you sit at your desk looking down at your papers or toward a poorly placed computer screen. The average head weighs about the same as a light bowling ball (about 12 pounds) and comprises approximately eight percent of your total body weight. Try holding that weight in an extended hand all day! Posture is the key: your head is meant to be in alignment with your spine so your neck muscles do not need to be continually active.

The crisis in health-care can be an "opportunity" to maintain our health better and prevent problems before they occur. Healthy workplace providers like Exan Wellness and businesses like the Royal Bank are finding ways to invest in our most precious commodity, our health, using a variety of medicines, therapies and healthy lifestyle choices. The return on this investment cannot be underestimated - a longer, healthier and more productive life.
About the Author
Exan Wellness, Inc. is a provider of corporate wellness programs that maximize the efficiency of internet tools with personal health coaching and worksite programs. http://www.exanwellness.com
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