I’ve been hearing from clients that they are feeling more physical pain, having difficulty sleeping, and even feeling less accomplished lately. While there are certainly many possible reasons for these symptoms, the fact that our work and home lives are crashing together in a way they never have before is the root of the issue for many people. The recent workplace closures due to COVID-19 have led to people quickly setting up home offices. We are now a few weeks into our new world experience, and the chronic stress and burden to our minds and bodies is starting to present itself.
If you have recently set up a home office, please consider the following suggestions to maximize your productivity and wellbeing. Also note: these suggestions are not designed to treat any specific medical condition. They are offered for the purposes of improving general function through your day. The top three suggestions are:
- Set up your environment so it is comfortable, easy to access, and avoids stressing your body.
- Practice behaviors that allow for frequent breaks while maximizing your productivity.
- Plan activities outside of work that rejuvenate and refresh you.
Let’s explore each of these in more detail…
- Setting up a proper home office will help you minimize stress to your body
- Even the most ergonomic set up is not designed for hours of use without a break
- Make sure to schedule activities that increase social connectedness and personal resiliency such as meditation
- Reach out for professional help if needed
1. Set up your environment so it is comfortable, easy to access, and avoids stressing your body.
The work environment these days is mostly designed around computer use. In this case, it is important to make sure you arrange your desk and workspace appropriately. The goal is to minimize joint strain and support your body so the muscles are not being over worked.
- Computer screens should be about an arms-length away from your face, and high enough so your line of sight straight ahead lands within the top third of the screen. Your chin should be in a neutral position. Note that the use of bifocals might warrant changing the height of the monitor.
- When using a single monitor, place it directly in front of you. If you use multiple monitors, then place the secondary monitor next to the primary. If both monitors are used with equal frequency, then you can place them side-by-side with each one equally in your view.
- The mouse and keyboard should be directly in front of you, next to each other, and ideally low enough so that your elbows are bent slightly more than 90 degrees, but your wrists are straight. Consider using a keyboard tray so that your elbows have the proper bend.
- Elbows should rest near your ribs, and your shoulders should be in line with your ear lobes.
- Any frequently used tools (i.e. stapler, scissors, pens, etc.) should be within an easy reach in order to not strain your arms or shoulders. Consider placing some lesser used items across the room to encourage movement breaks.
- Make sure your chair allows you to sit with your spine upright or slightly leaned back, your feet are supported, and your thighs are parallel with the floor. If you don’t have an ergonomic chair, try using pillows or a rolled towel to support your bottom and lumbar areas.
- If your chair has arm rests, make sure you still have the proper posture. Lowering and tilting the arm rests can be helpful here.
- Consider using a foot-rest if your chair is not the proper height. You might also consider placing an ottoman under the desk for the occasional stretch break to open up your hamstrings.
- Set the temperature in your workspace to a comfortable level. Being too cold can increase muscle tension, while being too warm can create emotional stress or even dehydration.
- Make sure your space is well lit ideally with natural sunlight or lamps so your eyes do not have to strain. Avoid poor quality lights including some fluorescent bulbs, and keep surfaces extra well-lit to see work materials on your desk.
- If your office has large windows, consider placing your desk perpendicular to them to avoid glare and maximize the light.
- Consider using an air filter or similar system to clean the dust and other particles from your workspace.
- Getting plants and good artwork in your space can also help boost your mood and provide a calming environment. Not to mention the air quality will improve with the right plants.
- Be cautious of using standing desks as your primary workspace. While standing is generally more healthy than sitting, it does put more strain on our joints. If you decide to use a standing desk, consider a hybrid option or occasionally sitting on a stool or high chair.
- Also be cautious of yoga or workout balls as your desk chair. These do require engagement of your core muscles, but again it is best to use them in shorter durations to avoid straining your back and spine.
2. Practice behaviors that allow for frequent breaks while maximizing your productivity.
It can be difficult to have boundaries between work and home when the physical proximity is now so close. This can lead to mental fatigue, physical stress, and eventually burnout. Think of planning for a marathon in your workday instead of a sprint.
- Move as much as possible. Remember even the most ergonomic setup is harmful to our bodies for long periods of time. Take stretch breaks between tasks, walk around the house, and ideally get some outdoor time with sun and fresh air.
- Using technology and having poor posture is often associated with shallow breathing. This can activate our fight-or-flight response and adds even more stress. Taking deep breaths at least every hour will help with stress management, improve mental function and allow your body to stay more relaxed.
- Use the 20/20/20 rule: every 20 minutes, look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds.
- Consider using dictation if you type a lot. This will give your body a break from the repetitive movement.
- Remember to blink. We blink less frequently when looking at screens, which leads to dry eyes and irritation.
- Plan 1-3 longer breaks (about 15-30 minutes) during your day to stretch, practice mindfulness or meditation, or just stare out a window and let your mind focus on something else for several minutes.
- If your task doesn’t require a computer, STEP AWAY! Any chance you have to give your eyes, mind, and body a break, take it. If you can have a phone call instead of a video chat, do it. During the call, consider walking around or standing in a different position.
- Stay hydrated throughout your work day. It is generally recommended for adults to have about 2 liters of water every day, and some experts recommend regular sipping for better absorption in the body.
3. Plan activities outside of work that rejuvenate and refresh you.
Most of us are guilty of binge watching Netflix or our other favorite streaming service at some point in the last few weeks. Give yourself a break, especially if you use technology all day for work.
- Schedule social time with friends and family where you have no other distractions. There is some evidence that the social connections we have are more important to longevity and quality of life than the food we eat. Also, consider using the phone instead of video chat to give your eyes a break.
- Spend time outdoors even if you combine that with another activity such as yard work, talking with a friend, or just working on your tan.
- Identify one or two hobbies that DO NOT require the use of technology or at the very least do not involve looking at a screen. The over use of technology can actually rewire your brain and creates a neurofeedback loop that can cause sleep issues, anxiety, and general irritation.
Now that you are armed with more knowledge about setting up a home office and lifestyle, here are some additional resources and tools to consider.
- Get support if needed. I am available to help people apply these tips for their home office, and I also offer private retreats for stress management, relationship and couples therapy, and NeuroMeditation. Additionally, if you want to rewire your brain, reach out to discuss neurofeedback options.
- The Roost stand is an excellent option for elevating your laptop if you have a blutooth keyboard and mouse available.
- The Veradesk is a great way to convert your regular desk into a standing desk while having the flexibility to also sit as needed.
- There is some evidence that computer glasses that block blue light help minimize the negative impact of frequent screen use. Your needs will vary depending on prescription and preferred style.
Enjoy the new home office set up, as there are some great advantages to working from home when done properly. Remember to email me if you need any support, and forward this post to anyone you think would benefit.