It took me a while to figure out how biologically stressful my job was. As I’ve said before, working for an investment company with a roof over my head to keep me out of the elements and away from “back-breaking” labor seemed to be a much better option than building, digging, and carrying things. And in many ways it is, but no job is void of hazards; the hazards of the office are probably just more subtle, chronic, and sneaky so that they go unnoticed for a while until the cumulative damage becomes apparent. That said, I have found ways to improve the situation and myself to become more resilient to the stress.
It has taken me a lot of time, research, and a large amount of trial and error to find the right approach, but now it’s starting to pay off for me. And for anyone reading this, perhaps you can leverage some of the experimenting I and others have already done to save some time and money for yourself if you’re interested in doing a similar office makeover.
Essentially it boils down to the simple, economical formula again of maximizing positive things like energy and nutrients and minimizing negative things like stressors and toxins. Everything I’ve tried to do serves those purposes. I realize that our bodies have an amazing amount of leeway in them, a great ability to adapt, and that we are equipped with filters and coping mechanisms like our liver, kidneys, and antioxidant systems, but everything comes at a cost. The laws of physics tell us that it takes energy to do work, so the more work your body has to do filtering toxins and stressors and the less energy it has or takes in, the worse you’re going to feel today, and the faster you’re going to wear out in the long run (think diseases of aging and early death!). Likewise, if you remove some of the toxins and stressors burdening your body and are able to bring in more energy to your system, you’ll feel alive and well.
There are little things that stress the system yet seemingly fly under our radar until we are made aware of them. Take artificial white noise, for example, like I have pumped into my office building all day. Essentially it transmits sound waves of nearly every audible frequency throughout the office so that your brain is so caught up in listening to and filtering that noise that it can’t hear or pay attention to other noises around you. The idea is that you will then be less distracted by someone talking twenty feet away from you because your brain is too busy trying to hear, filter, and make sense of the static white noise. As you hear it, you think little of it, yet after having it bombard your ears and central nervous system for hours on end, you start to get tired and irritable, so you go down to the main floor and walk outside for fresh air and…ahhhhhh, instant relief! Your brain is no longer burdened by the massive amount of sensory input and can relax for a while. The white noise has an energy cost by making the brain work harder than it otherwise would.
Another good example is all the electromagnetic fields (EMF) present in the workplace from equipment like computers, phones, lights, etc. If you remember back to my EMF blog post or any of the recommended reading by Jack Kruse, EMF interferes with your body’s natural resonance and also excites particles in your body, knocking loose electrons from your atoms and robbing your energy. You can’t feel this happening, but over the course of hours you have lost electrons (energy) to your environment and your body’s natural rhythms have been taxed and scrambled.
The list here could go on and on, of course. The tap water having extra garbage you don’t need like chlorine, fluoride, and dissolved solids, the air quality having dust, mold, and other allergens and probably a lower oxygen content than the air outside, the poor lighting hurting your eyes and disrupting your circadian rhythm, the food in the cafeteria or your favorite restaurant containing gluten, sugar, and mycotoxins…I could continue, but I think you get the picture. And while a few hundred years ago we may not have been able to cure the black plague or save someone’s life with a heart transplant (modern technology and healthcare does have its place), we also didn’t deal with any of these toxins or stressors in our environment. All of our beef was grass-fed. No one had to breath in exhaust fumes from vehicles. Everyone got plenty of natural light from the sun, and the only EMF in the environment was the native variety that life had evolved with for millions of years. Due to industry, technology, and progress, that’s all changed, and that means we need to change in order to cope with our new environment or we’re going to suffer with our health and wellbeing.
Now before I go on to explain how I’ve rigged my office, I want to make it clear that no matter what you do, it will be a distant second to being out in nature. We are meant to be outside, connected to the earth, taking in the sun, and moving most all day long until we sleep. So for those of you that think taking two walks during the day for fifteen minutes and eating outside once or twice a week is getting you ahead of the game, you’re sorely mistaken. Optimal is living outside with nearly constant movement, so while you may be a little ahead of that person that doesn’t take any walks during the day, you’re still probably a 1 out of 10 on the evolutionary scale of optimal human living. That isn’t meant to be a discouragement because every little bit helps in a cumulative fashion, but you need to know the honest truth of where that puts you within the full spectrum of optimal. If you sit down 12 hours a day and take those two brief walks yet your back aches all the time and you’re out of breath during those walking periods, now you may know why. Compared to the caveman, your movement is statistically insignificant, almost to the point of being a vegetable. That caveman might have gotten killed by a sabertooth tiger at age thirty, but until he did, he felt way better than you do with probably a total absence of back pain. Be thankful you don’t have to run from large animals anymore, but remember what you’re missing too so that you can make fully-informed life choices.
I’ll organize this by three sections: reducing toxins and stressors, taking in and conserving energy, and facilitating movement.
Reducing Toxins and Stressors:
1) Light: In a perfect world you would get all your light from the sun both because it is our earth’s prime energy source and because our circadian rhythms and hormones take cues from its cycles so that you are awake and energetic during the day and sleep well at night. Fake lights don’t do us any favors, and blue light from electronics is even worse, especially in the evening by suppressing your melatonin production and affecting sleep. I bought some screen covers for my monitors that filter out blue light from LowBlueLights.com, and sometimes I will even wear my blue-blocking glasses I got from Amazon. I also found that LowBlueLights.com has a set of glasses that may be even better as they not only block blue light but also enhance the contrast and view of text and objects for less eye strain, though I haven’t tried them yet, and they are more expensive around $60.
2) Water: If you read the cold thermogenesis blog post, you know that all the water I drink is filtered with a Zero Water pitcher, or reverse osmosis if I can find it, but all void of chlorine and fluoride as well as any other toxins. You need the water for energy, but filtering out a bunch of garbage with your kidneys is too costly, and fluoride prevents your energy transfers in your cells. I think this may be the most important item on the list.
3) Sound: Some people are more sensitive than others – I certainly know I am – but this one may be helpful for anyone, especially if you have a white noise system in your office. Even if you don’t, though, if there are sounds that annoy you to the point of wanting to pull your hair out – sounds like your neighbor talking loudly on personal calls or someone crunching an apple between their teeth five times a day – the stress accumulated in your system could be doing more harm than you know. The items that really get to me are keyboard typing, sniffing and throat-clearing or coughing, foot tapping, all those sorts of repetitive and seemingly unnecessary sounds. There are many ways to attack this one, some more expensive than others, but they may be worth it to sound-sensitive folks. I got a set of Bose noise-cancelling headphones over a year ago, and they made a world of difference in both noise stress and the quality of the music I could listen to instead, but they do create EMF concerns by having battery-driven equipment on your head all day (and they’re expensive). At the other end of the spectrum, there are simple ear plugs that work too for cheap.
4) Food: I won’t go into as many details here as a lot of my other posts are related to food, but don’t let the office be an excuse to not continue following your nutrition plan. Bring food from home, learn which eateries have the healthier options and gluten-free menus, and don’t be afraid to ask questions about what ingredients are in what dishes and what the chef is willing to change for your order. The food concern is a hot topic now, and many places are more than willing to work with you on this to keep you as a customer. That said, I still have yet to see grass-fed meat options at any restaurant, so that has to come from home usually. For snacks, if I feel I need one or want to supplement a meal that didn’t quite cut it, I have dark chocolate and cans of sardines hanging around the office.
5) EMF: This one is tough and a little more speculative on the solutions; the only real way I know of through my research is to get away from it and reduce exposure, but that’s not always practical in the workplace. I have read that if your body is grounded (in contact with the earth) that you are “immune” to external EMF exposure. I’m not entirely sure if that’s true, but I have brought in my grounding mat to work that I either stand on or put under my keyboard for my hands to touch as I type. Even if I’m not immune to EMF, I am grounded and getting electrons from the earth to help my energy side of the equation. I have also heard that Himalayan salt lamps may soak up EMF from around you like a lightening rod, so that may be worth a try. One true principal you can use to your benefit, though, is that electromagnetic fields quickly reduce in strength as you move away from the source, so instead of keeping your phone in your pocket, move it to the edge of your desk a few feet away, for example. The best idea I have, though, is to take frequent breaks and get outside if you can or consider doing cold thermogenesis at night or even during the day if you have a gym locker room in your building.
6) Air: I haven’t been able to try this at the office yet, only at home, but having a lot of plants in the area can improve the air quality by filtering toxins and allergens and increasing the oxygen content of the air. I found the research from this NASA study quite helpful. The best thing to do, though is get outside for fresh air as much as you can. Indoor air quality can vary by location, but it will almost always have less oxygen and more toxins and allergens than you’d find outdoors (unless you’re in the middle of a heavily polluted city).
Taking in and Conserving Energy:
1) Light: As you’ll see, some of these items are repetitive in that something you do to remove stressors likewise helps to add to your energy. But in terms of light, while avoiding fake lights, especially blue lights, can reduce your stress, adding back good light helps your energy. Take advantage of any sunlight you can through windows rather than pulling down the shades. And if you must use fake light, try to incorporate more red and infrared light, especially during sunrise and sunset to more closely simulate sunlight cycles and keep your circadian rhythm in line. Likewise, the red and infrared lights are the most effective at improving your energy semiconduction via water and stimulating your cell energy plants, the mitochondria (check out Jack Kruse’s work or Gerald Pollack’s book The Fourth Phase of Water). And as a bonus, red light is the most calming to the nervous system as it is the lowest frequency visible light thus less of an excitable stimulus on your nervous system. You can find various red LED lights on Amazon.com or even in places like Costco or Lowes. If you’re a fan of heating pads for warmth or aches and pains, try this one from Theresage as it uses infrared heat and creates less harmful EMF energy.
2) Water: This one is ultimately repetitive from the toxin and stressor section but still highly important. You can’t function well when dehydrated.
3) Native EMF: I have utilized a couple of things to try to get more native or native-ish EMF at my desk and also replicate grounding on the earth to try to tap into the free electron energy. I got a portable Schumann generator that replicates the EMF resonance given off by the earth, a field essential to life but one my body is essentially isolated from working on the seventh floor of a metal building. For grounding I try to go outside and stand barefoot in the grass for a while after lunch when weather allows, but I also have the grounding mat at my desk.
4) Food and Supplements: Again repetitive from the toxin section, but but in terms of what kind of food provides the most energy, you need to look towards electron density and ATP energy capacity. Seafood and fat are king. Fortunately I love sardines, dark chocolate, and avocados, but any way you can incorporate wild-caught seafood (not farmed and fed grain) and healthy fats like coconut, avocado, dark chocolate (low or zero sweetener), etc., the more energy you’ll have and the longer you’ll sustain it. I also have recently started taking a supplement called Coenzyme Q10 (ubiquinol, the reduced version, specifically, instead of ubiquinone, the oxidized version) which is a catalyst in the ATP-generation process. It’s hard to find in large quantities in foods other than things like organ meats, and EMF and other stress burn it out quickly. I’ve taken 100 mg twice per day with breakfast and lunch while in the office only, and it’s noticeably helped reduce the energy drag in the afternoon. It’s also a great thing to take while flying on airplanes to offset the massive biological stress of the EMF, altitude, and timezone changes.
1) Alternative Desks: By alternative I mean something other than sitting. I am fortunate enough to have a desk that moves up and down electronically to allow me to stand when I want to. Standing is better than sitting, but ideally you’d be moving, so if you have an option for a treadmill desk, that’s even better. The more research is done, the more folks are discovering that frequent, low intensity movement throughout the day is more important for general health than one concentrated hour at the gym after work. Now if you want to build muscle and be strong, you’ll need to lift some heavy things, but to offset sitting and keep healthy, lots of frequent movement is the key.
2) Take Breaks to Move: Take lots of breaks to go refill your water. Do ten air squats by your desk every once in a while. Get outside and walk if your schedule allows. Find any excuse to keep moving. I have started taking the elevator down and walking the stairs back up for my breaks during the day, and not only does it get me moving, but stair-climbing strengthens my glute muscles a lot to help with posture and back pain. Stair climbing also gives you a heck of a cardio kick, especially if you climb two stairs at once like I do; you’ll be breathing heavily when you get to the top and get your blood moving. If you have an office with a door you can shut or a personal room as our office has, you can escape for five minutes and do some stretching, yoga, or whatever kind of movement helps you relieve stiffness.
3) Use the Exercise Room: If your company has an exercise facility, lucky you, go use it! Even if you’re not someone who wants a full gym workout or doesn’t lift weights or train, you can still get in a little movement.
4) Focus on Work Quality Along with Quantity: If you’re like me, your biggest worry is that doing all this will make your work suffer. And yes, if you have important meetings, you can’t just blow them off to go move around a little. But if it’s just a some time away from the desk, say ten minutes out of sixty, you’ll be surprised at how much more efficiently you’ll work the rest of the fifty minutes when you’re refreshed and energized rather than continuing to chip away at it mindlessly for hours on end. I think this is also a topic that managers and human resource folks should be aware of, and it seems more so they are now, that by letting the employee rest and recharge they can avoid burnout and accomplish more with fewer mistakes during the time they are at their desks.
In the end it’s a pretty simple formula and concept, you just have to find as many ways as possible to include it in your day, the more the better. Minimize toxins and stressors, maximize energy intake via water, light, and food, and move as much as possible. Keep in mind that ideally we would be outside in the sun with fresh air and clean water all day long, so the closer you get to that, the better you are likely to feel. Each stressor you remove or minimize saves precious energy to keep you energized and focussed on your work. Each time you move you’re helping to prevent your physical deterioration from a sedentary lifestyle. And putting the best energy in your body via light, water, and nutritious food will fuel your health and resiliency in the face of stress.
Go take care of that office, and let me know if you have any other cool office tricks you’ve learned that work for you!