One of the pivots our society has had to make amid the COVID-19 crisis was the switch from our predictable and efficient work-desks at the office to less predictable, sometimes noisy, and definitely-not-ergonomic ‘work stations’ (dining tables!) at home. Working from home yields some benefits: less commute, convenience, comfort, more family time. However, there are plenty of negatives about spending all day at home such as: little to no breaks from your kids, cabin fever, lack of sports (a massively sore subject for many), and lots and lots of sitting. This all translates to more headaches and more body aches.
PERFECT POSTURE IS HARD TO MAINTAIN, BUT YOU CAN STILL MAKE SOME CHANGES
Let’s get something out of the way quickly. There is no such thing as perfect posture when you’re working from home …. especially at our kitchen counter or dining room table. Right now, stop reading and assess your current posture. How is it? Slouched shoulders? Rounded low back?
Here are some tips:
- If your chair is too short, it might cause you to round your back heavily. Can’t elevate your chair? Here are your options: a) Consider a thick seat cushion to elevate yourself; b) Move your work to a coffee table where you can sit on the floor – the desk surface may be more acceptable to your torso height if you sit on the floor.
- If your chair is too high, the chair’s edge could cut off circulation in your thighs or your back may strain from your dangling legs. An easy fix is to use a footstool to support your legs so that your thighs are more horizontal.
- If your table or monitor is too low, you will end up slouching down to view the screen better, causing neck and shoulder strain. Consider purchasing cheap table leg extensions, or a monitor riser so your natural line of sight is directly in front of your viewing screen.
- If your table or monitor is too high (rarely the case, but can happen) you might want to hunt for a higher chair or invest in one that elevates.
- Always make sure your keyboard and mouse is within reach of where you arm or wrist naturally pivots to so you don’t strain your neck or shoulder trying to reach for it.
- Ensure that your viewing screen is directly in front of your head, so you don’t have to keep it turned for long periods of time, risking neck strain.
(For a more standardized and ideal guide on work-desk and office ergonomics, click here.)
THE PERFECT CHAIR IS TOO EXPENSIVE, SO MOVEMENT IS KEY
Office chairs – even ones you buy from the local office store, are one-size-fits-all. A typical adjustable chair that can properly adjust for height, width, weight, stiffness with rotating armrests cost upwards of $2000.
So what now? Better to focus on movement – sweet, wonderful movement. Our bodies are really resilient and adaptive, allowing them to withstand various postures for short periods of time. So when you cannot correct for how you are sitting, your focus needs to shift, then, for how long you’re sitting. Your spine is strong and can handle the loads of a “poor” posture for a little while, but movement of your body into different poses or activities will improve range of motion and circulation, and reduce prolonged joint strains. Finding variety in your day – in activities and positions – can help significantly with pain, energy, focus, and overall satisfaction with your work.
Here are some specific strategies:
- Take a break from work. Stand up and move at least 5 minutes every hour. Get water from the kitchen, take time to look out the window or check on your kids.
- Change your working position. This could include altering your chair height or your view point, or switching to a different task. Consider switching devices – move to the couch with a tablet or a notepad and pen. You can even switch to standing when reading reports, or going on walks in the neighborhood or around the house during a call. Keep moving and switching it up.
- Maintain a regular exercise routine. This could be as simple as a 10-minute body weight workout of push-ups and body squats or a brisk walk in the neighborhood. There are also plenty of yoga streaming videos online, free or paid content.
- Get enough sleep. A good measure of how much you need is waking up on your own. Yes, without an alarm clock. This also means getting up when you first wake and not snoozing 12 times. Also, ensuring you obtain good sleep quality can significantly impact your irritability. Good sleep strategies include avoiding screens 1-2 hours before bed, avoiding caffeine 6 hours before bed, going to bed and getting up at the same time every day, only using your bed for sleep and keeping the room dark and quiet (i.e. no TV in the bedroom).
LAST BUT NOT LEAST, DON’T FORGET TO SANITIZE
It’s hard to feel sane sanitizing surfaces all the time, but pathogens are invisible. A tip that I recommend is to imagine people caked in mud when they enter your home from the outside. You wouldn’t want muddy footprints on the floor and muddy handprints all over your keyboard and mouse, do you? Encourage them to shower after being outdoors, remove shoes before coming in, and avoid touching frequently used tools and surfaces (keyboard, mouse, desk, kitchen counter) with unwashed hands. Sanitize those same surfaces with a quick wipe before you use them. A little prevention goes a long way to keeping your home – and you – healthy.