Toby Colliver, Doctor of Chiropractic, shares his insights on working from home ...
Staying in your PJs all day, getting to listen to your favourite radio station, avoiding that colleague with halitosis. What could be better? Now that the Government are once again encouraging people back to the office, it’s good to consider that working from home may have had its hazards as well as its perks.
For the last two years, a lot of people have been mandated to stay home and carry out all their usual tasks and duties from the "comfort" of their own abode. Some will feel that the novelty has worn off and relish the thought of getting back, others have fallen into a whole new comfort zone which they hoped may be their "new normal" forever. As a chiropractor I’ve continued to attend the practice, where my bench and other equipment is, in order to see my patients. But many of those same patients have been "WFH" themselves, so I’ve certainly seen some of the effects from a health perspective and I’ll discuss a few of them here. My hope is that it will get you thinking about how to make your working situation better in all regards, whether at home or back in the office, and to pick up some good habits to help keep you in good shape. Perhaps the most obvious element, and what a lot of people come to me for, is posture. Commonly, the "home office" setup is hunched over a laptop on a dining room chair. This is not good. Your spine will be held in a horrible position and it will cause muscle tightness, pressure and strain on joints, RSI in wrists, and maybe even affect other body systems such as eyesight, breathing patterns and bowel function. So the first thing is to sort out your workstation.
You can Google image search ‘perfect desk posture’ to get some guidance on angles etc so you can at least start to improvise some improvements. But investing in a proper chair with the right support is essential. As a general rule, your chair should allow your hips to be slightly higher than your knees. You should sit back into it as it will be shaped to support you in the right areas (often with some adjustability to e.g. lumbar support). Make sure you can get your legs right under the desk so you don’t have to lean forward to reach the keyboard. Your screen needs to be at eye level too. If using a laptop, put it on a stand with an external keyboard and mouse. You could even consider a standing desk which are becoming very popular. F or tailored advice, there’s a great company which will actually assess your workstation from photos and offer excellent tips. They can also provide any chairs or other products which can help. They are called Healthy Home Office . If you’re getting back to the office, speak to your employer about a desk assessment for you - they are legally obliged to carry one out. The main issue with sitting though is when it’s prolonged. Our bodies were built for movement and don’t do well when in one position for long periods, especially when in bad positions. Be sure to set a reminder to get up and move/stretch for five minutes at least every hour. And go for a short brisk walk, even just ten minutes, before and after work and at lunch. And remember, if your commute is now just a flight of stairs and a few steps across the hallway, your body will be moving a lot less than it used to. If at home, you can get a Swiss ball to sit on. You can still be at your desk but it will gently work your supporting muscles without you having to think about it. Even just for short periods a few times during the day while using your regular chair for the rest will benefit.
Some other thoughts I’ve had about working environments and the potential negative effects involved: Humans are social creatures. Working in an office environment gives you real connection to other people which you just can’t get through Zoom. Lack of connection can lead to depression. And, if you’re mixing with other people less, your immune system will get lazy. The distractions we find at home (children, pets, housework, Netflix…) can affect productivity which in turn creates stress and worry about our next performance review etc. If the line between work and home has been blurred there’s more tendency to work extended/ irregular/unsocial hours which can also affect us mentally, not to mention those around us, as we find it harder to have downtime and let go of responsibility. It’s the journey to and from work which often acts as our opportunity to switch modes and leave respective responsibilities behind (crossing thresholds, changing uniform etc.). So it might be helpful to create some boundaries for when you’re home working. And yes, that might include "dressing for work"!
When we are left alone in our own home, we might get tempted by the fridge. Don’t fall into the trap of extra snacking. In fact, if you’re not at least walking to work you probably should be eating less overall (unless you’re conducting meetings from your Peloton!). You probably get the gist now that there are many potential stresses of one kind or another when it comes to working from home. Some exist in the office too. Although they may seem small, it is the cumulative effect of many small things over a long period of time that allows health problems to creep up on us, often unnoticed until something snaps. It is our nervous system which has to deal with stresses. It can easily become overwhelmed by all these things, leading to aches, pains and other kinds of symptoms and health issues. While we can’t eliminate all stresses totally, just having some awareness of things to look out for can help us make changes which can benefit our health.
Always think of things in three main areas: physical (posture, movement etc), mental/emotional (anxiety, pressure, distractions) and chemical (diet etc). Consider anything that might be repetitive of prolonged especially, and see if you can find ways to reduce them. The good news is that as well as having some good habits to counteract the negative effects of stress, one of the best things you can do for the health of your spine and nervous system is chiropractic care. Not only does keeping your spine in line ensure it is stronger and held in better posture, but also it clears the buildup of stress in your nervous system. Like a reboot of your PC, when we make a correction it immediately releases the tension, and your body and mind are restored to balance.
If you’d like to find out more, or have any questions regarding anything here, don’t hesitate to reach out.
Toby Colliver DC
Doctor of Chiropractic
15a High Street