The secrets to working smarter, not stiffer
It’s been almost a year since we started staying home because of the pandemic. It’s upended not just our everyday lives, but also our professional ones. As we hunker down to work at home, we lower our risk of exposure to coronavirus, but are we also increasing our risk for work-related injuries and other health problems?
According to a survey commissioned by insurance company Chubb, in just a few months, 41% of Americans working from home started reporting new or increased back, shoulder and/or neck pain. In a separate survey of remote workers from Hinge Health, 45% reported back and joint pain with 71% indicating that that pain was new or had gotten worse.
On top of expected back or neck pain, reports of everything from digestion issues to tooth fractures abound. Experts at UC Berkeley Ergonomics Program have a few tips to help you stay healthy in your at-home workplace.
It’s not just your productivity that suffers from working on the couch. Sitting too long in a non-ergonomic way will take its toll in body aches and pains. Create a comfortable, practical workspace at a desk or table instead. Position the top of your computer screen at eye level. Your keyboard and mouse should be at elbow level. Sit with each foot planted on the floor or on a footrest, and change positions regularly throughout the day.
Move and stretch — more than you think you should. Can you grab a 10-minute walk before your next meeting? Set daily goals for push-ups, squats, leg lifts, and so on. Download a new gym-free workout app. Can you work standing on your feet for an hour or two? Use small (or at least not jumbo-sized) water glasses and coffee mugs so that you have to get up to refill them more often.
Give your mind and body a micro-reset. You’re at home, so you can lay on the couch for a couple of minutes when you need a break. Remember, you’re a human, not a machine. Maybe it’s time to get that back-massage gadget you’ve always wanted. Spend a couple of unscheduled minutes with a pet, child, or spouse who could use some attention. Write a postcard or a journal entry. Start a sketch. You can come out of this pandemic a better-balanced person by keeping your stress level down and taking a few minutes here and there to be good to yourself.
Your tech is a tool, not a shackle. From stretch reminders on your smart watch to exercise goal notifications from your favorite fitness apps, your smart wearables should work for you. A simple change of posture that includes standing positions can reduce body and eye fatigue.
Now that you’re taking breaks and moving more, you might be tempted to stay connected to work and news through your phone instead of your computer. Painful injuries to your thumb and finger joints can come from stretching too far to type or from holding your phone with one hand. If you’re going to type an email on your phone, use two hands, support your arms, or consider using a voice-to-text tool. Use an index finger to scroll instead of your thumb.
Remote work during a pandemic sometimes means long periods of isolation and potential feelings of loneliness. When you add the stress of a tense political climate to new caretaking responsibilities, things can really add up. Unhealthy behaviors like eating or drinking too much should be avoided. Attend virtual social gatherings, like game nights, trivia nights, book clubs, and movie clubs. Consider professional mental health care if your thoughts turn too dark or negative.
Let’s stay focused on the future. Effective vaccines are on the way. One day, we’ll be able to work and play together again. Who knows – maybe you’ll have some new stories to share (in person!) about how you got through these troubled times. Until then, be aware of how you’re taking care of your body, your mind, and your loved ones.