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WORK-LIFE BALANCE / SEP. 29, 2015
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Most Common Workplace Illnesses

Working in an office or enclosed space means that you’re exposed to people on a daily basis. Not only are you more prone to airborne illnesses, but you’re also exposed to higher levels of surface germs. This is especially true regarding hot spots. These are surface areas that are touched often, by many people, such as railings, elevator buttons, and door handles.

See Also: How to Stop Getting Sick at Work in the Winter Season

In order for germs to spread, leading to various common illnesses, people need to come to work sick. This is one of the core issues, as there’s little you can do to truly protect yourself once highly contagious illnesses are spread through the workplace. Realistically, do people come to work that often when they’re under the weather?

According to a study, conducted by the consulting firm Kimberly-Clark Professional, it was found that up to 59 percent of people go to work when they’re sick. Perhaps you’re guilty of this; waking up a little under the weather but still going to work. In many cases, people feel like they have no choice. If they don’t work, they fall behind. The truth is, it’s never a good idea to go to work when you’re ill. So, what are the most common workplace illnesses and what can you personally do to protect yourself?

Understanding which conditions you’re most susceptible to can help you protect yourself. What you don’t know, can potentially force you to take time off work that you simply can’t afford. Taking the proper prevention steps and understanding when you’re at risk, can ensure that you reduce your risk and stay as healthy as possible.

1. Influenza

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Influenza, more commonly known as the seasonal flu, tends to spread like fire at work. One individual comes in sick, then before you know it, everyone is coughing and suffering from chills. In turn, flu viruses spread and none escapes this contagious respiratory illness.

Due to the fact that lots of people get the flu every year, many have opted to get vaccinated. Although the flu vaccination appears to be effective, it does not work 100 percent of the time. Unfortunately, you can’t control the behavior of others, meaning it’s highly possible that individuals will come to work when they are ill.

Besides the obvious steps, like washing your hands often, not rubbing your mouth or eyes, and avoiding contact with sick individuals, there are plenty of lifestyle choices you can make on a daily basis, helping you reduce the development of the flu or your susceptibility to catching it.

Managing stress, getting enough sleep, and even regular exercise can help prevent you from getting the flu by enhancing immune function. Your diet is also a key preventative measure as well as a potential treatment. If you have contracted the flu virus, here are some foods that can help you improve your symptoms more rapidly:

  • Raw garlic: The compounds known as allion and allicin offer your body antiviral effects. If you come into contact with someone who has the flu and you’re starting to feel poorly, garlic can help destroy symptoms before they develop into the flu virus, spreading throughout your body. If you can stomach it, crush raw garlic into honey and consume this antiviral combination every few hours or so.
  • Spices: There are so many spices and herbs that are utilized within traditional Ayurveda medicine. During January and February when the flu season tends to peak, drink a tea mixture of boiling water, cinnamon, ginger, and coriander. Due to their high antioxidant content, they help strengthen your immune system.
  • Sweet Potatoes: The rich orange colour from sweet potatoes is due to its high dose of beta-carotene. This helps your body produce vitamin A which is critical for boosted immune function. In reality, a mixture of nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables should be consumed daily.

2. Common Cold

Like the flu, a cold affects the respiratory tract, due to an infection. More specifically, individuals typically experience symptoms regarding their throat, nose, and nasal passages. There are over 200 viruses which can cause colds, with the common cold being incredibly widespread.

In fact, the Canadian Center for Occupational Health and Safety reported that adults suffer from 2 to 5 colds each year, being one of the leading causes of missed work days. If you believe symptoms of a cold are beginning to develop, there are a couple of steps you can take to reduce the severity and longevity of your cold.

  1. Studies have shown thatincreasing your intake of zinc within the first 24 hours after symptoms have formed, can speed up recovery and lessen symptom severity. Although some take supplements, these are not recommended long-term based on potential side-effects. Instead, choose zinc-rich foods, such as grass-fed beef, wheat germ, spinach, and dark cocoa.
  2. Eat plenty of chicken soup or hot curry to aid cold symptoms. Your grandma wasn’t lying when she said chicken soup will help battle your cold. For one, liquids are critical when you’re sick and hot liquids are believed to reduce congestion. Secondly, studies have shown thatchicken may provide anti-inflammatory effects. In terms of a spicy curry, hot foods are believed to soothe coughs by promoting mucus and saliva secretion.

3. Depression

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Switching from physical to mental health, you may be thinking, depression? How can that possibly be contagious? Depression is a complex mental health condition which develops based on neurological and environmental factors. Now, I’m not saying that someone who is depressed will cough on and you’ll ’catch’ a poor mood, but studies have reported that depression is in its own way, contagious.

Conducted by Massey University’s School of Management, a study known as ’Workplace Depression – It’s Catching,’ reported that managers who show depressive symptoms within the workplace pass these feelings onto their co-workers.

Within this study, a self-reported state of depression was expressed by 10 percent of the leaders participating. This same rate of depression, 10 percent, was also reported amongst those who were working under these leaders. It was found that leaders who are depressed, often have followers (in this case their team members) who are also depressed.

If you find that this is the case in your workplace, sometimes it can be effective to submit a request for a mental health day. Depressed leaders not only hurt the productivity and effectiveness of their team, but this study shows that these leaders also begin to affect the mental well-being of those they work with.

See Also: Depression in America’s Workforce

Just as you would appreciate that others don’t come to work sick, you should offer the same courtesy. Your boss and managers will appreciate the fact that you do not come in and get others sick, furthering reduced productivity. The truth is, germs are everywhere and if cold or flu season are in full-swing, you will be exposed to these common illnesses both at and outside of work. Going to the grocery store or to the gas station could increase your risk as well, so ensure that you’re caring for yourself on a daily basis.

There are plenty of preventative measures which can be implemented so don’t wait until symptoms surface to take action. The stronger your immune system, the lower your risk of catching illnesses you’re exposed to. It’s as simple as that. Get plenty of sleep, manage stress, and live a balanced and healthy lifestyle. By taking action on a daily basis, you will protect yourself long-term regarding your health and missed time.

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