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Five Ways to Keep Your Job From Killing You

Thursday, 30 Sep 2010 | 5:52 PM ET

You joke about your job killing you, but guess what? It actually is.

Scott Quinn Photography | Photographer's Choice RF | Getty Images

Most workplaces are high-stress, high-germ environments, and that can have a significant impact on your health — and lifespan.

But don’t panic! There are some steps you can take to try to head your job off at the pass.

You already know that you’re supposed to eat better and exercise regularly — but here are a few things you may not know about decreasing your job stress and increasing your life span.

And for any of you New Age-phobes out there, I give you my word that there are no ambient sounds, “meditation snacks,” or flamingo yoga poses on this list.

Here are Five Ways to Keep Your Job From Killing You:

1) Get a wingman.

Just like fighter pilots face the threat of airborne enemies, executives and employees face the twin assaults of back-biting and gossip.

What’s different about the military, and lacking in the corporate world, is loyalty and camaraderie.

So take a lesson from Maverick and Goose — and get a wingman at work.

When you’re under a lot of pressure, a trusted colleague — a wingman — can help you overcome obstacles, reducing the amount of stress on you and your health.

“Whether it’s layoffs, budget cuts, extended work hours and the relentless pressure to perform, having a wingman can make all the difference,” said Lt. Col. Rob “Waldo” Waldman, a decorated combat fighter pilot for the Air Force and the author of “Never Fly Solo.”

“Teamwork and trust are critical for thwarting the missiles of fear, change and risk that too often send even the most seasoned professional into a downward spiral,” Waldman said.

He advises you go one step further, and adopt “the core wingman values of integrity, accountability, service and excellence.” In the face of adversity — have courage.

Communication is key. Just like combat pilots must communicate effectively so as not to put each other in danger, communicate effectively with your team, so you don’t sabotage your entire group.

“It helps to remind yourself that you are part of a great team — sometimes it is your turn to shine. Often times, it is someone else’s,” says Debbie Mandel, author of “Addicted to Stress.”

2) Be assertive — not aggressive.

One of the worst parts of any job, hands down, is how much is out of your control.

It’s easy to lash out against the boss, that jerk co-worker of yours or that idiot who cut you off this morning — but think about it: Do you really feel better? Or, is your heart rate still jacked up?

Anger and hostility are the emotions most strongly associated with heart disease, says Dr. Jay Winner, the author of “Take the Stress Out of Your Life: A Medical Doctor’s Proven Program to Minimize Stress and Maximize Health.”

You can’t eliminate stress, or the source of it, so health professionals suggest your goal should be to learn the appropriate response to stress.

Dr. Winner suggests a couple of things: Stop beating yourself up for your mistakes, and ask yourself what you can learn from them. Plus, cut down the stress of waiting by doing something constructive with that time. If you’re waiting for a meeting — maybe list things you’re proud of in your head. If you’ve got a long commute home, try a book on tape.

WebMD boils it down to this simple mantra: Be assertive, not aggressive. If you’re assertive about what you want and what you need at work, you’re less likely to have stress eating away at you from the inside — and more likely to get what you want.

And it’s not just being assertive with co-workers — it’s being assertive with yourself: Don’t sabotage yourself with negative thoughts like, “Can I do this? Will I screw it up?” — You CAN and you WON’T.

Next!

3) Get a massage.

Sure, it’s not as “Take THAT, job that’s killing me!” as say, taking a page out of a combat pilot’s book, but getting a massage can actually be a good weapon against job stress.

First of all, it lowers your heart rate and blood pressure — which is good for diminishing your risk of heart attack. It also helps encourage circulation and drainage in the lymph system — which removes toxins from your body. It also boosts your endorphins — you know, those feel-good transmissions your body sends during exercise or sex — and your immune system.

“Research shows massage therapy actually boosts the body's immune system, which extended periods of stress can compromise,” said CG Funk, vice president of industry relations and product development at Massage Envy, which operates spas all over the country. “Regular massage helps increase the body’s cytotoxic capacity — the activity level of ‘natural killer’ cells, which improves immune functioning.”

Not only is getting regular massages going to help keep your job from killing you, it will help improve your overall physical and mental performance.

4) I said stop touching that!

You may be judgmental of your sloppy co-worker, but listen up, Miss Clean: Your keyboard has more than 3,000 bacteria per square inch (far more than a toilet). And your desktop and phone have more than 20,000.

And, the flu virus can remain active on surfaces for 48 hours, the Hygiene Councilreports. If a sick co-worker touches your desk — using a hand sanitizer is only going to protect you for the next few minutes — not the next few days.

So, when you’re at your desk, refrain from touching your eyes, nose or mouth unless you wash your hands first. And if you’re eating at your desk — use utensils, not your hands.

And when you’re at your co-workers’ desks, try to limit the amount of time you touch their desks or keyboards.

Just hear your mother in your head: “I said stop touching that!”

Oh, and remember when she used to tell you to “Clean your room!”? Yeah — “Clean your desk!”

If you don’t have an ultraviolet light to kill the germs, no worries — you can just use a moist towelette or a few drops of dish soap and water.

Yup — just like your mom said.

5) Kill the lights.

You know why those fluorescent lights above your cube feel like they’re sucking your can-do spirit straight out the top of your head?

Because they are.

Fluorescent or too-bright lights can actually cause quite a few conditions besides irritability — they have been linked to headache, fatigue, stress and anxiety.

But wait, it gets worse: Over-illumination, as it’s called in medical circles, has also been linked to hypertension, which can lead to cardiovascular disease and — you’re not going to believe this one — a decrease in sexual function in both men and women.

Look, if you’re not going to do it for yourself, or your employees, do it for the children, OK?

Questions? Comments? Email ponyblog@cnbc.com or drop a line in the comment box below.

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Contact Pony Blog

  • Cindy Perman is a writer at CNBC.com, covering jobs, real estate, retirement and personal finance.

  • Based in Los Angeles, Jane Wells is a CNBC business news reporter and also writes the Funny Business blog for CNBC.com.

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