Do you work at a desk? Read this!

Me, too! I work at a computer most of the time, sometimes for 12 hours a day. I feel your pain.

I once tasked myself with writing an entire book in a month or so. That’s intense. I chained myself to the computer for 7 weeks. I did get the first draft done, but not without some serious damage to my back, from too many hours at a desk.

Thanks to some of the practices I’m about to explain, I don’t have back pain anymore, like I did for many years of my life.

I want to talk about two major issues that affect those of us who work at a computer full time, and what I do to avoid the long term damage that seems almost inevitable.

Eye strain!

eye strain at workDigital eye strain, eye fatigue and computer vision syndrome (CVS) can affect those who spend as little as two hours in front of a screen. For those of us who work at a computer full time, the damage can be disastrous. Fortunately, we can reduce that harm with a few simple practices.

You don’t have to take a nap to get some “shut eye.” Research on eye health, and people who work at monitors, shows that all you have to do, to keep your eyes healthy, is take a few breaks. In the 2015 Digital Eye Strain Report, the Vision Council recommended the “20-20-20 rule:” every 20 minutes, look at something 20 feet away, for at least 20 seconds. Ten minutes are even better! While you’re talking on the phone at work, get in the habit of shutting your eyes, or staring at something in the distance. Do it while you’re in the shower, too. (Maybe don’t do it while you’re driving your car or cooking at the stove.)

Many common eye complications related to computer use can be eliminated, or at least reduced, by adjusting the placement of the computer, controlling the lighting and using good preventive vision care habits.

The research says to position your screen straight ahead, arm’s length away, avoid glare from windows or bright lights, and use good posture when you’re sitting. Use the “visor test” to see if the lighting in your workspace is a problem. Make a “visor” out of your hands, and if your eyes feel better, the lighting should be changed.

Other tried and true practices for keeping your eyes strong and healthy include the following: blink more to keep eyes moist, zoom in or increase text size on your monitor or adjust the contrast.

Back strain!

Schedule breaks in your day. Just use your meals, exercise, errands, meetings, or conference calls as your breaks in computer work so you don’t work more than 60-90 minutes at a time.

While I was working 12-hour days writing, I didn’t go to the gym first thing in the morning, which would be my normal preference. Instead, I worked for a few hours in the morning, and then went to the gym as one of my breaks.  This way, I am not working for four or more hours at a time.

back strain at workResearch shows that four straight hours of the same task does not yield four hours of productivity. Concentration is similar to a muscle in the sense that it grows tired after extended use. Just like the body needs rest between sets at the gym, the brain needs breaks between periods of intense concentration in order to perform at its optimal level.

I got through college with an good grades by utilizing this principle. My strategy was to start classes at 8 a.m., and because I don’t have the attention span for six-hour study sessions (does anyone?), I scheduled 90 minutes of study between classes. It kept me on campus, walking outside from class to a study area, renewing my energy. And it forced me to use those 1-2 hour breaks between classes for studying. Some of my college friends scheduled four classes in a row, and then they’d go home, exhausted. After arriving at home, they would crash, killing hours of productivity. Several of them dropped out or got terrible grades and had to repeat classes.

Do yoga!

I cannot overemphasize this. I have a completely different body now than I did when I was 20, because now I’m limber thanks to regular yoga. Being limber isn’t just about tantric sex, showing off, or avoiding injuries.

Robyn doing yogaIt actually affects your entire body’s health, and your emotional health too. I have often said that YOGA is how I survived my divorce. It also helps me survive the sometimes epic amount of responsibility and stress in my life. Truly almost more than anything (though my healthy diet helps, too).

Yoga isn’t just for being bendy. It trains you to breathe appropriately, to be mindful of the connections between emotions, breath, and physical sensation, and overall helps a person become more grounded, relaxed, and present in the moment.

You may say that you don’t have time to drive to a yoga studio and do 60 minutes. Sometimes I don’t either. Especially when I’m on the road. But I do yoga in airports and in my hotel room. It improves my energy and is always a good use of 5-10 minutes.

Side stretches, one arm over my head, backbends, forward folds, holding one foot behind you with both hands, are all examples of unobtrusive and easy practices that are possible to do in a small space. You can even do them in your office at work!

But maybe most importantly, if you work at a desk:

When you take a phone call, GET UP OUT OF YOUR CHAIR. At first, this practice takes some mental training to remember, but soon enough it will become a habit. If I take a phone call, I do it STANDING.

If the weather’s nice, I take my phone calls outside. I even go out there if I have several text messages to answer. That way, I’m getting Vitamin D, AND I’m doing yoga stretches, while I’m doing work I have to do anyway. Multi-tasking at its finest. That’s three things you’re accomplishing with one phone call. And two of those are good for your health!

Probably the pose I spend the most time in, when I’m on the phone, is the forward fold. You’re standing upright (with your feet shoulder width apart, or sometimes I do it in a straddle). Bend forward until your head is upside down and hands are as flat on the floor as possible. Being upside down briefly is really good for blood and lymph flow, and resting and decompressing your spine.

stretches while at workI feel SO much better if I just take a few minutes to bend and stretch, move my muscles, a few times a day. This is one of the ways you avoid using stimulants, falling asleep at your desk, and hating your day.

So remember, to keep your spine limber, your brain sharp, and your eyes rested, and anytime you are not doing a task that involves looking at your screen or typing, GET OUT OF YOUR CHAIR.

Stand to take your phone calls. Walk around. Do yoga. And keep your eyes closed for a few minutes.

These are really simple ideas, but they can truly make an enormous difference in your health. And they cost you literally nothing, unlike the chiropractic care, back surgery, and eye surgery you may have to pay for if you DON’T practice these tips. I hope you will start making them new habits!

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