My old job was making me sick. One day I woke up with my neck and left shoulder painfully frozen. My doctor said it was because I had a "physically demanding job." I was confused: mostly I sat still at a computer all day, doing research, writing emails and designing presentations.
But I found a way to get better. If you're finding yourself feeling physically unwell at work, you don't have to put up with it. Here's how I healed — and how you can, too.
1. Get professional help.
Before I left my full time job (and my company-sponsored health insurance), I used my benefits to cover doctors' appointments and other treatments. A combination of acupuncture, chiropractic and physical therapy made my neck and shoulder better.
The professional help definitely helped get the pain under control, but my work conditions stayed the same. I knew I still needed to make a change.
2. Leave, even if you love it.
I loved the creative design work that I was doing at my old job. Helping clients solve their problems was stimulating, and I got along well with my co-workers.
My turning point came when Hurricane Sandy hit New York City. The storm and resulting flood forced me out of my apartment for just over a month, though at the time I had no idea when I'd be going home. "Life is too short," the experience made me think. I still wasn't sure what my body and mind needed, but my body was trying to tell me something. I decided I needed to quit my full-time job.
I had lined up some freelance work and a part-time teaching gig before my departure. I made sure to leave my old company on good terms, and in fact still do freelance projects with them to this day. But sometimes, your body can be smarter than your mind. Listening to my body changed my life.
3. Move through the discomfort.
Much of the treatment for my neck and shoulder pain involved doing exercises to expand my range of motion and increasing muscle strength in the affected areas. I also ramped up my general fitness regimen with some yoga and weight training and got more serious with practicing capoeira, an Afro-Brazilian martial art disguised as dance.
Even though it felt difficult to challenge myself physically through my discomfort, I found that moving more helped me tremendously in the healing process. The physical challenge of working on my body and with my body — rather than sitting still at work, allowing my symptoms to get worse — helped me to cultivate a sense of mental focus and calm.
4. Make everything a meditation.
My friend Sean Bray told me about his kung fu training with a Shaolin monk, where every movement and exercise was called a "meditation." Jogging warm up meditation. Hamstring stretch meditation. Roundhouse kick meditation.
The idea is that every move we make should be a mindful one that we treat with reverence and care. Why not apply the idea of "meditation" to everything we do? Facebook status update meditation. Client conference call meditation. Third quarter earnings projection spreadsheet meditation.
How do your movements affect your body? How do they affect your mind? How do they affect others? Make everything a meditation.