It has been almost a year since we started staying home due to the pandemic. It has changed not only our daily life but also our professional life. As we adjust to working at home, we decrease our risk of exposure to the coronavirus, but are we also increasing our risk of work-related injuries and other health problems?
According to a survey commissioned by insurance company Chubb, in just a few months, 41% of Americans who worked from home began reporting new or increased back, shoulder, and/or neck pain. In a separate survey of Hinge Health remote workers, 45% reported back and joint pain and 71% indicated that the pain was new or had worsened.
In addition to expected back or neck pain, reports abound of everything from digestion problems to dental fractures. The experts at the UC Berkeley Ergonomics Program have some tips to help you stay healthy in your workplace at your home office.
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Be careful with your ergonomic setup
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It’s not just your productivity that is affected by working on the couch. Sitting too long in a non-ergonomic way will affect bodily aches and pains. Instead, create a comfortable and practical workspace on a desk or table. Bring the top of your computer screen to eye level. The keyboard and mouse should be at elbow level. Sit with each foot flat on the floor or on a footrest and change positions regularly throughout the day.
Move and stretch, more than you think it should. Can you walk 10 minutes before your next meeting? Set daily goals for push-ups, squats, leg lifts, etc. Download a new exercise app without a gym. Can you work standing up for an hour or two? Use small (or at least not giant) cups of water and coffee cups so that you have to get up to refill them more often.
Take breaks every hour
Give your mind and body a micro-reset. You are at home, so you can lie on the couch for a couple of minutes when you need a break. Remember, you are a human, not a machine. Maybe it’s time to get that back massager you’ve always wanted. Spend an unscheduled couple of minutes with your pet, child, or spouse who might need some attention. Write. Start a sketch. You can emerge from this pandemic as a more balanced person by keeping your stress level low and taking a few minutes here and there to be good to yourself.
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Use technology to enhance your well-being
Your technology is a tool, not a shackle. From extensive reminders on your smartwatch to notifications of exercise goals from your favorite fitness apps, your smart wearable devices should work for you. A simple change in posture that includes standing positions can reduce eye and body fatigue.
Hold your phone with both hands
Now that you’re taking breaks and moving more, you may be tempted to stay connected to work and the news on your phone instead of your computer. Painful injuries to the joints of the thumb and fingers can come from reaching too far to type or holding the phone with one hand. If you’re writing an email on your phone, use both hands, hold your arms, or consider using a speech-to-text tool. Use an index finger to scroll instead of your thumb.
Don’t forget to take care of your mental health
Remote work during a pandemic sometimes means long periods of isolation and possible feelings of loneliness. When you add the stress of a tense political climate to new caregiving responsibilities, things can add up. Unhealthy behaviors such as 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 become too dark or negative.
Let’s stay focused on the future. Effective vaccines are on the way. Someday we will be able to go back to work and play together. Who knows, maybe you have some new stories to share (in person!) About how you got through these tough times. Until then, let’s be mindful of how we take care of our bodies, mind, and loved ones.