Self-care when working from home
For many of us, working from home looks set to continue for the long-term. There are several benefits to remote working. Spending more time at home, rather than in the office or commuting, can improve work-life balance. WFH also gives us more time to exercise and prepare healthier meals during the working day, which can benefit physical and mental wellbeing, as well as improve productivity.
However, there are also potential health issues which can arise when working from home, both mental and physical. When working full-time, we can spend up to 40 hours a week sat at our workstations. This can take its toll on our mental and physical health. Vision Express discuss working from home tips and ways we can look after ourselves when WFH, during lockdown and beyond.
Spending so much time at home staring at screens can be harmful to our eyes. Known as ‘digital eye strain’, spending too much time staring at screens can harm our eyes and cause headaches. This is more common at home rather than in the office, as the equipment we use often isn’t suited for using for 6+ hours. Blue light filter lenses are designed to block blue light from computer screens, which can cause computer vision syndrome.
A common mistake people make when working from home is using unsuitable equipment for offices. Many people don’t have the luxury of having a second screen for their home office, so choose to use a television screen rather than another laptop or computer monitor. This can be harmful for our eyes, as sitting as close to a television screen all day as we would a computer monitor can cause eye strain. Also, as a television screen is bigger, we tend to move our heads more when viewing the screen, which overtime can strain neck muscles.
To prevent digital eye strain from occurring when working from home, it is important to take regular breaks from staring at a monitor screen. The 20-20-20 rule gives remote workers a chance to take a break from the computer screen and give their eyes a well-deserved break. Every 20 minutes, workers should look at an object which is at least 20 feet away, for 20 seconds.
The quality of your workstation can also affect your eye health when working from home. Ideally, workers should use a larger screen with the top positioned at eye level, at least 40 cm away. The larger screen should prevent squinting when reading. Also, the positioning and distance of the screen can reduce glare and help posture. It is also possible to alter the brightness, contrast and font size of a computer screen, in order to find a combination that works for you.
If possible, working in a room with natural light can be beneficial to your eyes. Sitting underneath artificial lighting all day can be tiring for our eyes. If it isn’t possible to work in a room with natural light, then using an LED bulb provides softer lighting, which is less harsh on the eyes.
Drinking is great for our general health; however, it also hydrates our eyes. Eye drops can also be used to refresh and sooth sore or dry feeling eyes. They can be used year-round rather than during summer for hay fever.
Finally, if your eyes are sore or ache, giving them a massage can help to ease and soothe them. Gently and slowly rub your eye lids in a circular motion, as well as your brows and bags. This light pressure can provide relief to slight pain and soreness.
Neck & back
Neck and back pain are two of the most common health issues people face when working from home. An unsuitable workstation can gradually cause the muscles in our neck and back to ache. As this pain is so gradual, people often overlook it.
When it comes to neck and back care, the key is prevention rather than cure. Having a comfortable workstation where your muscles can relax in a natural position will benefit your body. As mentioned, the top of your screen should be eye level, to keep your neck straight and prevent you slouching or looking up continuously.
There should also be plenty of leg room underneath the desk. This prevents us from twisting or sitting at an unnatural angle to face the computer screen. The upper legs should also be parallel to the floor. A desk or table should be used, rather than a cupboard or dresser, this allows us to sit in a more comfortable and natural position.
Sitting on a sofa with a laptop may seem comfortable, however whether the laptop is on our lap or a coffee table, this causes us to tilt our neck downwards. Sat in this position for hours at a time, day after day can strain the muscles in the upper back and neck.
Many employees look set to continue working from home long-term. If this I the case, it may be worth investing in ergonomic equipment for your home workstation, such as a desk, office chair which provides lower back support, keyboard and desk riser. These will improve posture and reduce the need for the user to slouch and sit in unnatural, uncomfortable positions.
Even with a sufficient workstation, it is still possible to get uncomfortable and restless, especially when sat at the same spot for several hours. If this is the case, transforming your desk into a standing desk can easily be done. Simply stacking books or boxes under your screen and laptop will suffice for the short-term. Standing also helps to maintain good posture when working, whilst increasing blood flow, so it is a good alternative for when we get tired of sitting at a desk all day.
Even sitting on an exercise ball can make a refreshing change from an office chair. If the upper legs remain parallel to the floor, this can benefit our neck, back and core muscles, increases blood flow and helps posture.
It is also important to look after our mental health whilst working from home. Due to the pandemic, many of us work from home due to necessity rather than choice. Remote working certainly has its benefits, however it can be a shock to the system to those used to working in offices and socialising with colleagues.
Taking regular breaks from working not only benefits your vision and physical health, however it is also important for the mind. Work can be stressful at the best of times. However, when working from home without the usual company of work colleagues to talk and vent with, problems can magnify. Coupling this with the stress of the pandemic, it is important we care for our mental health and wellbeing when spending so much time working at home.
There are several ways we can improve our experience of working from home which benefit our productivity and mental health.
Setting a routine can give structure to your day, which helps to distinguish between personal time and work time. Waking up at the same time every day and getting ready for work can also make the workday seem different to the weekend or a day off. Having a designated lunch break can help you to unwind during the day, whilst completely switching off after you finish working is also important. Even having a ‘commute’ is beneficial. Spending some time before work either reading, doing yoga or exercising, can relax and refresh you before work.
During lockdown we spend more time in our homes, whether working or relaxing. It is important to distinguish between the two and to switch off during personal time. Even minor distractions such as checking work emails can lead to increased stress levels. Failing to have enough time away from work can be detrimental to mental health.
If possible, having a designated workspace in the home can help with this. As mentioned, this can benefit our physical health, however, it also helps our minds draw the line between working and relaxing. If we spend all day working on the sofa then the evening relaxing in the same place, it can be difficult to distinguish between the two and for our minds to fully relax and switch off.
When working from home, staying connected with people is also important for our mental health. This can be with friends or colleagues about work or just a general catchup. The loneliness and isolation combined with the stress of work can often feel like it is too much. Just talking to someone can do wonders for stress levels. When isolated during lockdown, even minor problems can seem like bigger issues than they are. A general chit chat can help put things into perspective during difficult times.
Taking a break and exercising
Working from home can take its toll on physical and mental health. Taking regular breaks and exercising can help with both.
Taking short breaks from staring at the screen and stretching your legs every hour or so can help to refresh and recharge the mind and body. This helps to alleviate stress and refocus the mind.
Exercise can also do wonders for physical and mental wellbeing. It can give us an excuse to get outside and get some fresh air which can clear the head. This can be going for a walk, jog, cycle or even doing a home workout. Home workouts have become more popular during lockdown. There are plenty of free apps and videos available of varying intensities and durations. These range from high intensity workouts to light stretches which are perfect to do during the workday, when feeling stiff, tense or stressed.
Working from home can be difficult. It can take its toll on our physical and mental wellbeing. The separation from work colleagues and poor-quality workstations can make the experience unpleasant. However, when done correctly, remote working can be an enjoyable experience. It is important to remember to stay connected to people whilst working from home, whether it is through colleagues or family and friends. Remote working can be a lonely place, so talking to people can help you and others alleviate stress. It is also important to draw the line between the working day and time off. This can also benefit productivity. Working from home can also affect our physical health, in particular our eyes, neck and back. If you plan on remote working for the foreseeable future, it may be worth looking into upgrading your workstation, or even asking your work to.