The Impact of Stress on Computer-Related Injuries

The Impact of Stress on Computer-Related Injuries

Are you feeling a bit stressed lately?  We are currently living in hard economic times.  Have you been laid off and are spending a lot of time on the computer, looking for jobs, filling out applications?  Or are you working twice as hard to avoid a lay-off or to complete work tasks that were formerly completed by one or even two others? 

Change can be stressful - even when the event causing the stress is positive (such as having a baby or starting a new job).  According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, we respond to events in our lives by evaluating the situation and deciding on how best to deal with the circumstances with the skills that we have.  If the demands of the situation outweigh our abilities, we react with a stress response. 

Although we typically think of stress as being negative, the benefit of the stress response is that we become energized and motivated to deal with the stressor.  Our body responds with a “fight or flight” response that is effective for dealing with an immediate danger.  When the danger is gone, the demand for “fight or flight” fades away and our body relaxes.  Chronic stress, such as the low-level, every day stressors that we face at work or at home, produces the same response.  However, our body is never given the change to relax out of its “fight or flight” mode.  This chronic state of stress can impact our physical health. 

Canada’s National Occupational Health & Safety Resource (CCOHS) is an excellent source for information on work-related and organizational stressors.  In Workplace Stress - General, some of the physical symptoms listed of the stress response include an elevated heart rate and increased blood pressure, insomnia, frequent illness, headaches, grinding teeth, a clenched jaw, muscle aches, and fatigue.  The May 4, 2009 Ergoweb article Work-Related Stress can be Costlysummarizes the CCOHS article and concludes that stress in the workplace should be taken seriously as it can harm both psychological and physical health as well as the effectiveness of the business organization.

Can stress increase our risk for pain diagnoses such as carpal tunnel syndrome and cumulative trauma disorders (also known as repetitive strain or stress injuries, musculoskeletal disorders and overuse injuries)?  Well, take increased muscle tension, fatigue and loss of sleep when healing occurs from micro-trauma, add in long hours on the computer or at a desk trying to accomplish more than your normal workload of tasks, factor in fewer dollars available to spend on ergonomic equipment and adjustments that can help relieve awkward or stressful work positioning, and you have the perfect storm brewing for repetitive use injuries related to computer or desk work.

Next week’s article will explore different ways of coping with stress.  In the meantime, check out the Bellaonline article at the Ergonomic site on The High Cost of Ignoring Ergonomic Work Practices  to learn no-or-low cost ergonomic solutions to improve your work site and your work methods.  The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) offers some excellent resources on dealing with stress.  Visit their site to download a 19-page booklet on stress , to discover positive ways to cope with unemployment , or just take a minute to complete their Work/Life Balance Quiz .

Marji Hajic is an Occupational Therapist and a Certified Hand Therapist practicing at the Hand Therapy & Occupational Fitness Center in Santa Barbara, California. For more information on hand and upper extremity injuries, prevention and recovery, visit Hand Health Resources.

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