by Christine Worthington, Virtualpsi Coordinator
I’m sure we are all feeling the effects of the significant changes in our schedules from “on-the-go” teaching and in-person interaction with our students in the building to “sit-and-click” instruction at our home computers. Inevitably, these changes can impact all areas of our bodies as we get used to the “new normal” of online instruction. However, there are ways to create a positive experience, both physically and emotionally, into your work-from-home schedule. Luckily for us at psi, we have exceptional occupational therapists on staff who can assist us with transforming our home workstation to a more comfortable, ergonomic design. Melissa Mortensen, OT and I worked together to offer some easy, cost-effective suggestions for your home office transformation. To begin with, consider all areas of your work environment – keyboard and mouse pad, chair, desk, lighting, temperature, background and surrounding stimuli, as well as healthy considerations like diet, exercise, and relaxation.
When I began my journey as the Virtualpsi coordinator, I quickly began to experience wrist and elbow pain, as well as shoulder and neck strain. My eyes were also very strained as a result of working on the computer all day and from consistent exposure to the blue light from the computer screen. Making some minor changes to my desk positioning, chair height, choice of eyeglasses, and taking time to move and stretch my body significantly improved how I felt at the end of the work day. Making changes that best fit your specific needs are essential.
Wrist and hand support – The first area to consider is hand and wrist support. Reducing or eliminating any gaps or spacing between your hands and wrists and the keyboard and desk is a simple adjustment that could have positive lasting effects on reducing arm, elbow and/or shoulder and neck discomfort. Look for keyboards and mousepads that offer foam supports to help eliminate those gaps.
Good posture starts with a good chair – A good office-style chair is essential to help with good posture. Find a chair that offers height adjustments so you can position your body in correct alignment with the desk height. Placing your feet flat on the floor will also encourage proper posture. A kneeling chair or core ball, which both encourage forward positioning of the hips, could be a good choice for you. A thoracic back brace could also assist you with proper posturing while sitting if you tend to hunch over when typing. Do some investigating and find out what works for your body and your workspace.
Should I get a standing desk? – Standing desks are definitely trending these days, but it is the height of the desk that will impact your posture the most. If you have a static desk where the height cannot be altered, having an adjustable chair could provide you the necessary relief. If you like the option to stand and sit at your desk, research adjustable desk converters that can allow you to change desk height at your convenience. These converters seem to offer the most versatility.
Why are my eyes so tired at the end of the day? – If you are like me, my eyes get very fatigued after a day in front of the computer screen. The lighting in your work area could also affect how your eyes adjust to the light coming from the computer. Wearing protective glasses could really relieve the uncomfortable eye strain associated with the blue light emitted by the computer monitor, as well as the surrounding light from windows, lamps, and overhead lights in an office. Even if you don’t wear glasses, investing in a pair of blue-light filtering eyeglasses could significantly reduce the fatigue felt from the computer screen. There are so many low-cost style options and strength levels available on Amazon. You will probably notice the difference as soon as you start wearing them!
Don’t forget about your surroundings – The temperature of your work area, as well as extraneous stimuli, could impact your stress and fatigue levels while working online. For the most effective work environment, consider making changes to the following areas if these items are bothersome or interfere in your work:
- too high/too low temperatures
- noise makers like fans, clocks, appliances, ringing phones
- curious pets or family members
- eating meals at your desk
Creating a quiet, comfortable, dedicated workspace to complete your online sessions lends itself to positive outcomes and a more stress-free experience.
Lifestyle changes – Ergonomic changes to our work environment help our bodies adapt to working in front of a computer for extended periods of time. However, what can you do to help your body be more resilient to the effects of the work you are doing? Staying hydrated and eating healthy, nutrient-dense foods, and putting aside time to move your body between sessions will help clear your head and make you feel more productive throughout the day. Even just a brisk, 15-minute walk in the middle of the day could provide the stress reduction you need. Enjoy the fresh air and sunlight! Don’t forget to get appropriate rest each night and be kind to yourself.😊
Check out these websites for further ideas and suggestions for healthy lifestyle reminders and for tips to easily transform your office area into an ergonomic, stress-free workspace.