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 Work Well 
The following is one in an ongoing series of columns entitled Simply Well by . View all columns in series

Now examine the pace of your work. Does your job allow for periodic stretches? Do you have to spend hours sitting, or can you get up and walk around? (Many of us just settle for the inevitability of a work situation in which the needs of our bodies and minds will always be secondary to the demands of productivity. Changes in the work environment may require active steps on our part.) Who sets deadlines? Are they generally realistic? Are you expected to work overtime regularly or to take work home on weekends?

Look at the cultural norms in your office or work group. Is smoking or drinking encouraged? Are heavy lunches of high-fat food the usual fare? Is coffee the beverage that fuels work? Do other people support one another in exercise or working out in some way? Do you?

If there are difficult people with whom you have to interact, are you able to maintain your sense of self-worth despite their actions? If not, what internal messages do you give yourself when you leave these people? Are you self-critical, defensive, upset? What do you and your coworkers talk about when you are not working? Do these conversations create momentum for creative action and uplift or stimulate you, or are they full of gossip and generally depress, drain, or bore you?

That's a lot of investigating. Maybe you’ve opened up a few cans of worms that you hadn’t wanted to touch. Summarize what you’ve discovered for yourself. Write a letter to yourself in which you describe the health of your current job situation.

Or give yourself a job-health quotient by assigning yourself a score between 1 and 100, where 100 indicates an ideal, high-health work environment and 1 means a work situation that is about to kill you.

No matter how bad the situation may seem, realize that when you give up your voice in your own life, you become the victim of circumstances, and then you are lost. If you become an active participant in your life, you will maintain a sense of being in charge of your life. You do this by initiating changes, however small. Many times a small change is all it takes.

Make a distinction here: There are two levels at which you can make changes. The first is the behavioral level. At this level you will actually do something, or not do something, to effect a change in your environment. For example, you may have adjusted your chair to suit the height of your computer screen, but found that your legs are cramped. To make your working environment healthier, you put the monitor on a stand that raises it four inches. Now your chair can stay higher, giving your legs more room, and your neck doesn’t have to be bent. Other small changes at this level can include negotiation with management for a healthier environment or a change of schedules to allow for flextime. You could also confer with your coworkers about instituting some changes. This can be more successful than trying to be a lone crusader.

The second level of making changes is attitudinal change. At this level you work within yourself, changing your perception, your degree of attachment, or your sense of purpose and intention with regard to your job. The proverbial cup appears half empty or half full depending upon the observer’s attitude. It is up to you to define how your job gives meaning to your life and what overall purpose it serves. Meanings are in people, not in things. Recall Gibran’s words, and choose the meaning your work has for the soul of the earth. Remember, it is not always possible to change what is, but it is always possible to change your relationship to it.

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 About The Author
John W. Travis, MD, MPH, is the creator of the Wellness Inventory and its parent, the Wellness Index. He is the founder and co-director of ...moreJohn Travis MD, MPH
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