Take a break from alcohol

Many of us enjoy relaxing with a drink, something that might be more tempting when isolated at home. But alcohol has a dark side, and not having any for several weeks will benefit your health, sleep and wallet.

While most of us drink alcohol at levels considered moderate or low risk, many people’s drinking habits put them at risk of alcohol-related disease. These diseases are more than just a nasty hangover. Long term excessive drinking increases your risk of a number of cancers, heart disease and liver disease, lowers your immunity, and reduces male and female fertility.

The price we pay is high. More than 3 million people died as a result of harmful use of alcohol in 2016, according to a recent report by the World Health Organization (WHO). Overall, the report outlined that the harmful use of alcohol causes more than 5% of the global disease burden.

What’s the benefit from giving up?

If you quit alcohol for five weeks, you can expect the following:

·       Your sleep quality will improve. Alcohol interferes with the normal sleep process, affecting the quality of your sleep, disrupting sleep cycles, and triggering early morning waking. After a good night’s sleep, you will feel more alert, and your work performance and concentration will improve.

·       Your cholesterol, blood glucose, blood pressure and liver fat levels will start to fall. In turn, this will reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and alcohol-related liver disease. And because alcohol contains a significant number of kilojoules, you may begin to lose weight too.

·       Your skin will look better. Alcohol causes dehydration so abstaining can leave you with hydrated, healthier-looking skin.

·       Your mental health may improve. Alcohol can trigger or worsen existing symptoms of anxiety and is known as a depressant. We know that alcohol affects several nerve-chemical systems within our bodies that are important in regulating mood.

The message from health authorities is clear: the less you choose to drink, the lower your risk of alcohol-related harm, and for some people, not drinking at all is the safest option.

There is no global consensus on recommended maximum intake for alcohol so the guidelines for safe drinking depend on where you are. In most cases, it is recommended to consume no more than two standard drinks on any day and to have several alcohol-free days in a week. The definition of a ‘standard drink’ also differs from country to country, although it is generally a drink that contains between 10g and 12g of pure alcohol.

Managing Fatigue at Work

Have you been sleeping poorly, feeling mental or physical strain at work, or experiencing stress or anxiety, particularly due to the Covid-19 pandemic? Any of these factors can lead to fatigue, a major workplace hazard.

It’s easy to confuse fatigue with feeling tired, but it’s more than that. Everyone feels tired at some point but this is usually resolved with a nap or a few nights of good sleep. Signs of fatigue include:

  • tiredness even after sleep
  • reduced hand-eye coordination or slow reflexes
  • short-term memory problems and an ability to concentrate
  • blurred vision or impaired visual perception
  • a need for extended sleep during days off work

What causes fatigues?

Fatigue is often a combination of personal and work issues. Personal issues include lifestyle factors, such as poor diet and lack of exercise, and psychological factors, such as depression, anxiety, stress or grief.

Workplace issues that can cause fatigue include:

  • Prolonged or intense mental or physical activity. It's not just physical workers who get fatigued - fatigue affects all types of employees.
  • Shift work causing disruption to your internal body clock.
  • Exceptionally hot or cold working environments.
  • Workplace stress, such as organisational change, job dissatisfaction, conflict, or an ongoing stressful situation.
  • A strenuous job or excessively long shifts.
  • Long commuting times.

Fatigue affects your mental and physical health, but it can also impact the safety of those around you. When your alertness, reaction times and concentration are reduced, your ability to make good decisions is affected. This can increase the risk of incidents and injury at work.

Your Responsibilities
Your employer has a responsibility to provide a safe working environment and that includes addressing factors that could contribute to worker fatigue.
But as an employee you also have a duty to take reasonable care for your own safety and health, and to ensure your acts or omissions don’t impact the health or safety of others.
To reduce the risk of being involved in a work incident caused by fatigue:
  • Look after yourself, Make sure you get enough sleep and recovery time when you're away from work, and seek medical help if you're concerned about your health.
  • Watch for signs of fatigue. This means monitoring your own (and others') level of alertness and concentration.
  • Talk to your supervisor about managing your fatigue. This might mean taking a break or shift naps, drinking water, or doing some stretching or physical exercise.

Worried $ick

Many of us live with huge money worries. The coronavirus has had an enormous economic impact but financial stress can also result from a relationship break-up, physical or mental ill health, addiction, or unexpected expenses. Whatever the cause, financial insecurity can significantly affect your health and wellbeing.

Financial stress doesn’t just affect people out of work. Research commissioned by AMP for its 2019 Financial Wellness report found that two in five employees admitted feeling financial stress. This was across all industries, income levels and job roles. Money concerns impact people in many different ways, the report found.

While many people think money worries are a personal issue, the research shows being financially stressed spills into working life, increasing absenteeism and impacting productivity.

Financial stress, like any form of stress, is also linked to mental and physical health issues, family breakdown and substance abuse, and can lead to feelings of isolation.


Get the help you need

Many people facing financial stress are reluctant to ask for help, feeling ashamed of their situation. But there is free help available and it can make a huge difference.


Talk to a financial or credit counsellor

It’s not easy to talk about money difficulties, especially with family and friends, but getting help early means you will have many more options. If you feel overwhelmed by money worries, contact a financial counsellor as soon as possible.

Financial counsellors, also known as credit counsellors in some places, are skilled professionals who offer a free, independent and confidential service through community organisations, community legal centres and some government agencies.

Financial counsellors can help with things like bills or fines, credit card and other debts, gas, electricity or phone disconnection or the threat of eviction. They can also help you work out a repayment plan for debts that can’t be waived, and help with planning for big purchases, provide information about managing money, and refer you to other services and schemes.

Don’t confuse financial counsellors with financial advisers. Unlike financial advisers, financial counsellors can’t help you with investments and retirement planning.

As well as a financial benefit from talking to a financial counsellor, there’s often an emotional benefit too. Along with the advocacy and information, it can help just to have someone who listens and is on your side.

It can be a huge relief to talk to a financial counsellor. And then, feeling more empowered, to take the next step. To find a financial counsellor in your area, try a quick web search, Government sites dealing with finance may also have resources available to you.

Resilience 101

Do you know someone who seems to be able to cope with life’s ups and downs and ‘bounce back’ after a setback? Their resilience is a skill we can all learn.

It could be an unrealistic workload, on-going stress related to the coronavirus pandemic, or job insecurity. Whatever the cause, work-related stress is common and according to Safe Work Australia, accounts for long periods of sick leave.

To cope with the stresses of life, it’s important to stay as mentally well as possible. Building resilience is one way we can contribute to a more mentally healthy workplace, says Dr Sam Harvey, a psychiatrist with the Black Dog Institute and head of the Workplace Mental Health Research Group.

“We know that resilient people bounce back and don’t get ill where others would in the face of psychological stressors,” says Dr Harvey.

Resilience is more than coping with life’s sudden problems. People who are resilient are also flexible, can adapt to new situations, learn from experience, tend to be optimists, and are able to ask for help when they need it.

Building your resilience

For a long time, resilience was thought to be inherited or acquired early in life, or perhaps something that was internal, part of your personality. We now know that it’s possible to develop resilience.

We have this mistaken image of resilient people as bulletproof, as people who somehow don’t feel pain, or can cope without asking for help, or can cope without asking for help, says Dr David Westley, head of the psychology department at Middlesex University, UK. In fact, the opposite is true, he says. It’s the people who can ask for help, who can express their worries, fears and sadness, that cope with trauma, loss and stress much better, he told the BBC.

Techniques for building resilience include:

  •  Staying connected. Whether this is in-person or remotely, aim to maintain good friendships and family relationships, as social interaction and support is vital to good mental health. Being able to ask for help from your family and friends when you need it is also key to managing stressful situations.
  •  Taking time to recharge. Make sure you take regular breaks, finish work on time, and plan to take leave when you are able. Even if you physically can’t go away anywhere, it’s always good to take a break from what you’re doing.
  •  Practising stress-reducing techniques. This is very personal – mindfulness and mediation may work for you, but they don’t for everyone. You may find exercising, reading a book or listening to music is a better tool for reducing your stress.

How to Work From Your Laptop

Working from home has become the new normal for many of us. But unless you set up your workstation correctly, you’re at risk of developing neck and back problems. Physiotherapist Adam Crisp explains why.

To many people, working from home may sound great. Sleeping in past 6am, no commuting to and from the office and staying in your pyjamas all day. However, this new way of work-life also opens up the door for the potential musculoskeletal complaints.

Many of us are used to working in an office with a monitor (or two if you’re lucky), a comfortable office chair, enough space to fit three people, and possibly even a sit-to-stand desk. When you’re working from home, this is rarely the case, with many of us forced to work using a laptop at a desk or table that may be too high or too low, and an old office chair or dining chair.

Is working from a laptop bad for us?

When using a laptop, your neck and upper back are often flexed forward. This position increases the effort required by the muscles of the neck and shoulder. For short periods of time (less than one hour), this may not lead to any musculoskeletal complaints. However, if this is your new “normal”, you’ll increase the likelihood of developing neck pain, shoulder pain, upper back stiffness and headaches. Here are a few strategies that will help minimize this.

·       Sit at a desk (or table) and use a chair that provides good postural support. If the table is too high or the chair doesn’t provide enough support, use pillows to assist.

·       Place your laptop on some books or a box and get your hands on a separate keyboard or mouse. This will allow you to keep your neck in a more neutral position and reduce the effort required by the muscles. Ensure that your screen is arms-length away.

·       Take frequent postural breaks (every 20-30 minutes) and perform regular neck and shoulder stretches.

If you are finding that you are developing pain, and regular stretching and self-management strategies do not help, please contact your nearest physiotherapist for a tailored exercise and stretching program.

Why Healthy Doesn’t Mean Slim

We live in a society where if you’re slim, you’re considered healthy, and if you’re not, you’re unhealthy. The truth is that we shouldn’t rely on weight as an indication of health.

Losing weight isn’t easy. Weight loss diets often require so much restriction of calories, carbs or fat that it’s natural to start feeling deprived. Even when you have lost weight, there’s a good amount of research showing that you’re likely to gain it back over the next few years.

Many experts now believe that focusing on weight loss as the ultimate goal isn’t helpful, and that promoting healthy behaviours is more achievable and may have better outcomes.

With this approach, “if a person loses weight through changing their health behaviours, weight loss is a beneficial side effect, not the primary goal,” says accredited practising dietitian Zoe Nicholson in the RACGP’s newsGP.

Don’t focus on weight

There are a number of problems with making weight loss your only goal, believes Nicholson. While you can actively take steps to improve eating and exercise habits, you may not lose the desired amount of weight. And without the visible change on the scales, you may not be motivated to continue.

Reduced body weight tends to get the credit for improved health, but this is often also the result of changes such as eating better and exercising more.


Healthy behaviour and longer life

There are a number of studies that link a higher Body Mass Index (BMI) with a shorter lifespan. Fewer have investigated healthy behaviours and longevity, independent of body weight. One largescale study of over 11,000 people, published in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine, examined the impact of four behaviours on death rates: eating more fruits and vegetables; exercising regularly; moderate alcohol intake; and not smoking. The researchers then crunched the numbers according to people’s body weight.

The results? Size mattered, to a point. Being thinner was protective – but only if you didn’t have a healthy lifestyle. Having a BMI over 30 increased your risk of dying early – but only if you weren’t following the four healthy behaviours.

What the study did show was that the association between body weight and dying early dropped away almost completely once behaviours were taken into account.

What can we take away from research such as this? Changing your eating patterns and increasing your activity may or may not lead to the desired drop in kilos. But no matter the shift on the scales, your health is going to benefit.

Look After Your Skin

If you are washing your hands frequently or you work with detergents, solvents, oils or acids, you’re at risk of contact dermatitis.

And in today’s environment, when you are encouraged to wash your hands thoroughly for at least 20 seconds every time you handle objects others might also have touched, you are likely to be washing your hands much more frequently than you normally would.

Even before the current encouragement to thoroughly wash your hands, if you worked in the health care industry, handled food, or worked with your hands, you are most at risk of occupational contact dermatitis (OCD).

It is important to note that OCD can affect people from any type of work, including office work. Or indeed, it can affect you even if you’re working from home.


So how do I know if I have OCD?

If you’ve got skin that’s red, dry, swollen, itchy and sore, these are all signs of OCD, and it can have a significant impact on your ability to do your job. OCD is one of the most commonly reported and underestimated occupational diseases. Worldwide, it’s estimated there are between 50 and 190 cases per 100,000 workers each year.

The two most common types of OCD are irritant contact dermatitis and allergic contact dermatitis.

Irritant contact dermatitis:

Approximately 75 per cent of OCD cases are irritant contact dermatitis (ICD). ICD can develop quickly, from accidental exposure to a strong irritant. Most cases, however, are caused by frequent exposure to a weak irritant, such as water, soap or detergent, so anyone who regularly washes their hands is at risk. These can dry and irritate the skin, eventually causing an inflammatory reaction. Contact with a mild irritant may initially only cause your skin to redden, but after continued exposure you may notice small lesions or sores appearing on the reddened area. If you think the ICD is being caused by the soap you are using at home, you may be able to reduce the recurrence by changing your brand of soap.


Allergic contact dermatitis:

About 25 per cent of OCD cases are allergic contact dermatitis (ACD). This is different from ICD as it involves your immune system responding to a substance you’re working with. This allergic response can take days, weeks or even years to develop. Allergens that commonly cause ACD include cosmetic ingredients such as fragrances, metals in jewellery (like nickel), latex, some textiles, and strong glues.

Treatment for OCD includes avoiding the cause where possible, using protective clothing and gloves, and applying moisturising treatments that cover your skin with a protective film.


Look out for dermatitis

Make sure you regularly check your skin for early signs of dermatitis: dryness, itching and redness. This may develop into flaking, scaling, cracks, swelling and blisters. If you’re at work, report any cases of dermatitis to your employer who may refer you to an Occupational Health Doctor or Nurse. If you’re at home, consult your doctor.


28 April is World Day for Safety and Health at Work.

Take a Stand

You may have heard sitting is bad for your health, but does that mean we should stand all day instead?

If you’re an average office worker, then you’re probably spending over six hours a day sitting at work. Studies tell us that prolonged sitting may increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and stroke, even if you’re a keen exerciser. Sitting without breaks can also lead to a sore and stiff neck, shoulders and back.

But standing all day can be hard on your body too, and a combination of sitting and standing seems to bring the most benefits. In 2015, the British Journal of Sports Medicine published a review of the scientific evidence on how to best address sedentary behaviour in the office. They recommended ‘accumulating at least two hours per day of standing and light activity (such as light walking) during working hours.’

The sit-stand desk

One popular solution to the increasing sedentary nature of our jobs is the sit-stand desk, which allows you to move between sitting and standing while at work. But how do you use these to ensure you get the recommended two hours of standing or light activity?

The answer, according to Alan Hedge, Cornell University ergonomist, is the Sit-Stand-Stretch or 20-8-2 regimen. The involves, for every 30 minutes of your workday:

  • 20 minutes of sitting (in good posture)
  • 8 minutes of standing, and
  • 2 minutes standing and moving.

For an average workday of seven and half hours, standing for two hours and moving for 30 minutes.

Tomato time

Even if you don’t have access to a standing desk you can still take regular breaks from sitting. One way to do this is to work in 25-minute bursts, after which you stand up and take a five-minute break. This is also known as the Pomodoro Technique, so named because the bursts of time can be measured using little tomato-shaped kitchen timers – Pomodoro is Italian for tomato.

Use your five-minute break to move your body – perhaps walking to the kitchen to refill your water glass or grab a tea or coffee, or doing some simple neck, shoulder and back stretches.

If you don’t have a tomato timer, there are plenty of apps online that can keep track of your sessions.

How to Spot a Heart Attack

Heart disease is responsible for the most deaths worldwide for both men and women of all races. Heart attacks and strokes make up the majority of this group. The symptoms of a heart attack are not always obvious and can differ between men and women.

Women don’t expect to have a heart attack. Even though men are twice as likely to have a heart attack, heart disease remains the second leading cause of death for women.

A heart attack occurs when blood supply to the heart becomes blocked, reducing the amount of oxygen getting to the heart muscle. This can lead to permanent heart damage.


Warning signs of a heart attack

We’re familiar with the classic Hollywood heart attack of a man clutching at his chest and falling to the floor. The reality can be quite different. Heart attack symptoms are not always sudden or severe, can start slowly with only mild pain or discomfort, and may be different for men and women.

The most common symptoms, for both men and women, are sudden central chest pain or discomfort in the chest that doesn’t go away. It can feel like pressure, tightness or squeezing.

You can also experience symptoms you may not expect, such as:

·       pain radiating down the left or both arms

·       dizziness and/or nausea

·       pain in the jaw, back, neck or shoulders

·       stomach pain or reflux (burning feeling in the throat)

·       fatigue

Research shows that men and women can have different heart attack symptoms. The Australian Heart Foundation says that just over half of women who have a heart attack experience chest pain. Many other women will only experience non-typical symptoms like breathlessness, nausea and arm or jaw pain.

The American Heart Association agrees. According to their 2016 statement published in the journal Circulation, women can report shortness of breath, muscle weakness and fatigue, anxiety, loss of appetite, and profuse, cold sweating.

Women are more likely to put down their symptoms to less life-threatening conditions like acid reflux, the flu or normal ageing and as a consequence will take longer to reach a hospital and get treatment.

By knowing the warning signs and acting quickly you can reduce the damage to your heart muscle and increase your chance of survival. If you experience any symptoms you suspect might be a heart attack, stop, rest and call emergency services.

The Link between Depression and Sleep

Sleep is often considered an optional extra for busy people, trying to cram as much as possible into their day. Yet if you are one of the many people who toss and turn at night, the relief of sleep eluding you, then you will know the agony of insomnia.

While a number of factors can trigger difficulty sleeping, research tells us that if you have depression you are more likely to experience sleep problems. These include problems falling asleep (sleep onset insomnia), difficult staying asleep (sleep maintenance insomnia), or early morning wakening.

It works the other way, too. If you have troubling sleeping, then you have a ten-fold risk of developing depression compared to those who fall asleep easily.

Sleep is a problem for many

The rates of depression are increasing worldwide and so too are sleep problems. A 2019 report commissioned by the Sleep Health Foundation revealed the extent of sleep problems in Australians. It found almost 60 per cent of people regularly experience at least one sleep symptom (like trouble falling or staying asleep). This is concerning, given that sleep problems are also linked to depression.

“It’s troubling to see just how common it is for people to struggle with their sleep when it’s such a vital aspect of good health and happiness,” said Professor Robert Adams, lead author of the report and spokesperson for the Sleep Health Foundation.

“Failing to get the quality of quantity of sleep you need affects your mood, safety and health, not to mention your relationships with family and friends,” he explains. It’s very important to get it right.”

Backed by research

American studies have confirmed the strong link between sleep and depression. A Michigan study followed 1,000 adults over a three-year period. It found those people with insomnia were four times more likely to develop major depression over the three years, compared to those who slept well. In another study that looked at 300 pairs of twins it found that sleep problems in childhood significantly increased the chance of developing depression later in life.


Get the help you need

It is crucial to seek help early for sleep problems. This can reduce the risk of developing depression. And for those people who already have depression it will improve the effectiveness of treatment for your depression.

Talk to your GP if you are experiencing any difficulty falling or staying asleep. You may need to look at your nightly routine and other things during the day that may help or hinder your sleep. Your doctor can also make an assessment of your mental health and recommend treatment if necessary. Sleep psychologists treat insomnia with a form of talking therapy known as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). This is an extremely effective treatment for sleep problems.