There's a lot to love about working from home. You can skip that lengthy commute and clock up some extra time in bed. You can cook something during your lunch break, instead of paying a small fortune for a salad. You can ditch the din of the open plan office space and make way for blessed silence.
But what the work from home life giveth, it also taketh away, mostly in the form of that ergonomic, posture-fixing office chair. Spending eight hours hunched over your laptop like a gremlin at your dining table, on your sofa, and maybe even on your bed or floor just doesn't do a body good. Your butt hurts, your wrists ache, your neck feels pinched.
Most of us can’t shell out for high-end office furniture, but there’s still a lot you can do to create a more ergonomic, healthy, and productivity-boosting environment.
For help, I reached out to Tina Homayouni, Resident Physiotherapist at Foundation Physiotherapy to learn how we can all better look after our bodies to minimize that WFH stress.
Motion is Lotion
It’s no secret that we should all be moving more but it can be hard to know where to begin. The ACSM and CDC recommend 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity every week and 2 muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week that work all muscle groups.
According to Tina, examples of moderate intensity aerobic activities include taking a brisk walk, riding a bicycle, dancing, hiking and rollerblading. “One way to tell if it's a moderate-intensity aerobic activity is that you should be able to talk, but not sing the words to your favorite song” she tells me.
There’ll be times when you might have a crazy schedule and can’t see how you’ll get out for some fresh air but even on your most hectic days, you need to help your body by taking frequent breaks. It’s non-negotiable.
“I often advise my patients to get up periodically throughout the hour about 2-3 times and stretch. The point is that we must interrupt these prolonged periods of sitting. Going to get some water or walking to the bathroom are good examples of these but they don’t happen nearly as frequently enough. We need to be intentional about creating these interruptions” says Tina.
Engage in a General Strength Training Program
If you knew that a certain type of exercise could benefit your heart, improve your balance, strengthen your bones, and help you lose weight all while making you look and feel better, wouldn't you want to get started Tina asks me.
“Well, studies show that strength training can provide all those benefits and more…” she replies when I nod my head vigorously.
Strength training — also known as weight or resistance training — is physical activity designed to improve muscular fitness by exercising a specific muscle or muscle group against external resistance, including free-weights, weight machines, or your own body weight.
Find a Way to Manage Your Stress Levels
Stress is the body’s response to a challenge or demand. Everyone experiences stress, which can be triggered by a range of events, from small daily hassles to major changes like a divorce or job loss. The stress response includes physical components such an elevated heart rate and blood pressure, thoughts and personal beliefs about the stressful event, and emotions, including fear and anger.
Stress serves an important purpose—it enables us to respond quickly to threats and avoid danger. However, lengthy exposure to stress may lead to mental health difficulties (for example, anxiety and depression) or increased physical health problems. A large body of research suggests that increased stress levels interfere with your ability to deal with physical illness. While no one can avoid all stress, you can work to handle it in healthy ways that increase your potential to recover.
And with that in mind, here are 5 proven ways to reduce stress and restore wellness:
1. Eat and Drink to Optimize Your Health
Some people try to reduce stress by drinking alcohol or eating too much. These actions may seem to help in the moment, but actually may add to stress in the long run. Caffeine also can compound the effects of stress. Consuming a healthy, balanced diet is the better option to help alleviate stress.
2. Exercise Regularly
In addition to having physical health benefits, exercise has been shown to be a powerful stress reliever. Consider non-competitive aerobic exercise, strengthening with weights, or movement activities like yoga or Tai Chi, and set reasonable goals for yourself. Aerobic exercise has been shown to release endorphins—natural substances that help you feel better and maintain a positive attitude.
3. Reduce Triggers of Stress
If you’re like most people, your life may be filled with too many demands and too little time. For the most part, these demands are ones we have chosen. You can free up time by practicing time-management skills like asking for help when it’s appropriate, setting priorities, pacing yourself, and reserving time to take care of yourself.
4. Study and Practice Relaxation Techniques
Taking the time to relax every day helps to manage stress and to protect the body from the effects of stress. You can choose from a variety of techniques, such as deep breathing, imagery, progressive muscle relaxation, and mindfulness meditation.
5. Set Realistic Goals and Expectations
It's okay—and healthy—to realize you cannot be 100% successful at everything all at once. Be mindful of the things you can control and work on accepting the things that you can’t control.
The Mind-Body Connection
“Psychologically, we might feel more stressed working from home, we might feel more pressure from bosses as we’re not in the office and they’re checking up on us more, we might be worrying about not seeing relatives or not being able to see them. Having kids around when you’re working from home can contribute to stress and anxiety. Then socially we’ve been isolated from our colleagues, friends and family for over a year in lots of circumstances – and all of those things contribute towards pain. It’s not just the physical stuff that matters, it’s everything” explains Tina.
The link between mental and physical health cannot be underestimated – and in the pandemic, our stress levels have ramped up another notch. If you’re stressed, Tina recommends making sure you are factoring in activities into your day to distract the mind: this could be getting outdoors, cooking, reading, or trying mindfulness or relaxation techniques.
Get an Ergonomic Assessment
If your WFH situation looks less than glamorous and is causing you more than an eyesore, it might be time to rethink your set-up and deal with that nagging back pain that just won’t subside. An Ergonomic Assessment is the best way to prevent and combat injuries sustained due to poor workstation set-up, awkward posture, or improper ergonomic products. The main objective of the assessment is to observe the primary and secondary workspaces, chair set-up and functional workspace including keyboard, mouse and monitor set-up. It’s a great way to learn how to reduce the effects of repetitive strain injury including preventative measures, exercises/stretch breaks and postural correction.
The Bottom Line
“Remember: motion is lotion. If we’re moving regularly and changing our position often, standing up and sitting down, taking regular breaks, that’s absolutely the best form of prevention for getting musculoskeletal problems when we’re at our desks all day. And if we’re adding in some more regular exercise, strength training, good diet and sleep, we’re onto something great” says Tina.
While working from home may provide a sense of freedom and flexibility, as well as a no-cost commute, there are hidden stressors to be aware of. By focusing on what you can do to mitigate this stress, you can improve your overall work-life balance and general well-being.
Reach out to Tina for personalized help on maintaining your well-being with in-person and virtual consultations at Foundation Physio.
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