How to make your workspace a wellness safe haven

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An office is where dreams come true, according to The Office’s Michael Scott. While this may be a bit of an exaggeration for some of us, we can all benefit from sprucing up the place where many Americans spend more than a third of their waking hours.

Since most of us aren’t our own bosses, there are many things out of our control at work, but you likely have some control over creating a workspace you enjoy. Autonomy is important to workplace enjoyment and productivity.

Having an unhealthy work environment can cause chronic stress, leading to increased problems in physical and mental health, including immune suppression, high blood pressure, insomnia, irritability and absenteeism.

Simple things like surrounding yourself with plants and photos of loved ones can soothe your mind when the day gets stressful. I have Christmas lights framing my office door all year-round because they bring about a sense of peace and contentment in me.

Adding pops of yummy aromas can also lend a helping hand to your peaceful work environment. Things like hand lotion and essential oils to quickly rub on your hands and wrists can promote relaxation, prevent stress and add a natural feeling to your immediate surroundings. Lavender is great for insomnia, headaches and stress; peppermint for nausea and headaches; and lemon for air purification and nausea.

Even more important than tangible de-stress items are the skills we use to increase wellness at work. These skills include exploring alternative interpretations to events. Instead of jumping to “My boss hates me,” perhaps consider “I don’t know why my boss is frowning. It might have nothing to do with me.”

Direct communication with your boss and coworkers, awareness of feelings, self-compassion and mindful breathing are all easy steps we can take to make our work life more mindful.

One popular method for mindful breathing is the box method, which is used by Navy SEALs. Close your eyes and inhale for four seconds, hold for four seconds, exhale for four seconds, then hold again for four seconds. The idea is to visualize your breathing pattern moving in a square motion with four equal sides.

Not all of us have the luxury of having our own office, so if you’re an introvert working in cubicles, try to carve out some alone time during the day or night to recharge your battery.

Jennifer Carter is a psychologist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.