You only get one: Take care of your body before it breaks

If you are reading this hunched over a laptop, STOP!

It’s a common human error to think you are invincible. Until one day your body loudly erupts in pain. If you’re lucky you might get a warning in the form of some gentle tingling in your fingers. The next thing you know you have a pinched nerve that makes it impossible to type. It’s no fun to code a game from the floor plastered in heating pads and howling in pain.

  1. Invest in equipment.
    The bare minimum of acceptable equipment is a cardboard box to raise your monitor and an external keyboard and mouse. Do more than the minimum. Search for “office ergonomics.” There are a wealth of diagrams and explanations to set up a variety of healthy workspaces.
  2. Movement trumps the 90-90-90 rule.
    For over a hundred years people have recommended the 90-90-90 rule, which instructs you to keep your elbows, hips, knees, and feet at 90 degrees. It isn’t a bad rule to follow, but new ergonomic equipment prioritizes movement above all else.
  3. Find furniture that encourages movement.
    Active sitting chairs are designed to engage your core, helping to prevent the kinds of stiffness that contribute to repetitive stress injuries. Standing desks can keep you moving, especially adjustable ones that can be lowered for sitting or raised for standing throughout the day.
  4. Listen to your body first.
    You only get one body, you can’t buy a 32-pack of new bodies at Costco. Taking care of your body is the most important part of working from home. Trends in office furniture change frequently. When buying equipment, it’s helpful to try it first if possible. Every person’s body is different and above all, listen to yours.
  5. Be vigilant about aches and tingling.
    If you start to feel tingling or discomfort, deal with it right away. Don’t wait for it to turn into pain. If you start to feel wrist or back pain, the damage has already begun. The physical impacts from injury compound, so you want to deal with any problems as soon as possible. Immediately stop doing what you are doing and change your setup.
  6. Lighting and air quality matter.
    Even and consistent lighting can help prevent eye strain. If you have headaches from looking at your monitor, you can get special computer glasses that help reduce glare and increase contrast. Fresh air can boost productivity and focus. If you are spending all your work time in a stuffy room without windows, consider investing in a portable air purifier or taking more walks outdoors.
  7. Try multiple workspaces.
    People setting up home offices tend to focus on a single workspace, but it’s great if you can change up your posture and switch positions. Most damage comes from being stuck in one position and never moving. Have a few different workspaces or postures that you rotate throughout the day.
  8. Walk and talk.
    Frequent movement will prevent injuries as well as increase productivity and energy. Foster a culture where casual meetings can be attended on the phone while walking. It can be difficult if you are in a city and surrounded by honking horns, but in meetings where you are mostly listening or having casual catch-up chats, it’s sometimes possible to walk and talk. If walking during meetings is impossible, you can set up a yoga mat in your office and stretch.
  9. Keep moving after work.
    We lose a lot of movement when we stop travelling to work. Outside of work time, it’s important to keep active physically. I know everyone says this and then it’s a different thing to make it happen, but use any tricks you have at your disposal to make regular physical activity part of your life. Experiment with different options until you find one that works for you:
    • Motivated by learning? Try dance classes, martial arts, or walking to a podcast.
    • Motivated by solitude? Try a home rowing machine, or hiking in nature.
    • Motivated by utility? Try cycling or walking for your errands.
    • Motivated by social situations? After the pandemic ends, try intramural sports like soccer or baseball.
    • Motivated by connection? Take a long walk with a friend and chat as you go.
  1. Take breaks or be broken
    People working from home are more likely to work longer hours than people working in an office.
    Be protective and vigilant about stopping work at a specific time, taking real lunch breaks, and keeping your weekends for yourself.

    Everyone is invincible to burnout until they aren’t. You wake up one morning and realize that you have lost your passion, are irritated with everyone, and are exhausted to your bones. If you are financially trapped in a toxic crunch environment and find yourself unable to set boundaries, I’m so sorry. Try to take micro-breaks where you prepare herbal tea or 1-minute outdoor stretch breaks while the rest of us work to overthrow this broken system.
  1. Prioritize your mental health
    The prevailing tips on mental health haven’t shifted much in the past twenty years:
    • Find community and connection
    • Sleep well, eat well, drink water
    • Get exercise
    • Meditate and journal
    • Get professional help (if you can afford it)

If you can follow these tips, they do help. Yes, it is challenging. And the isolation of working from home can exacerbate existing issues with mental health.

Professional help is prohibitively expensive and we are increasingly disconnected from each other. And we interact constantly with a media cycle that manipulates our brain chemicals to make meditation and introspection extremely challenging.

Be compassionate with yourself. Online support groups can help with feelings of isolation, and the combination of routine and carefully built support networks can help you to climb through each day and into the next. If you figure out the secret to mental health, please do share it with the rest of us.

Created by Marie Claire LeBlanc Flanagan from GAIN and funded by Ontario Creates and the CMF, Isolation Nation tackles the tough pandemic-related problems like motivation and communication, as well as continuing challenges like market discoverability and work-life balance.

Download the full free 32 page resource here, or read another excerpt “Can you hear me? 10 tips for keeping attention in online meetings“.