How to Stay Healthy & Happy While Working From Home

Full disclosure, I do not work from home myself, but I do work with a steady flow of clients that have been working from home for the past year and I would like to share with you what I have learned.

Full disclosure, I do not work from home myself, but I do work with a steady flow of clients that have been working from home for the past year and I would like to share with you what I have learned.

Context

I am a physiotherapist in Vancouver, Canada with a busy caseload that can be hard to get into in under a month, which by nature biases my caseload towards people with more subacute to chronic issues.  

It has been really interesting to see how some people have genuinely been able to find a silver lining in the events of the past few years while others have been crushed by the anxiety and stress of it all.  Most of us are creatures of habit and develop routines that seem to work to get us through the days, weeks and years of our lives, but most of our routines went out the window when the pandemic became a reality in March of 2020.  Some people lost their jobs, other people’s jobs became intensely busy, while another large group made a lateral shift to doing the same job, but from home.  This post is dedicated to those of you that are still trying to navigate the complexities of working from home.

Standing Desks & Ergonomics

I wish I started a business selling standing workstations in 2018 because the branding of “sitting being the new smoking” has seemed to really work in getting people on their feet over the past few years.  The trouble is that in the same way that we aren’t really built to sit at our desks all day, we aren’t really built to stand still at our desks all day either. Don’t get me wrong I think it is great to get more people standing, but like I have said before: just because you can stand, sit, walk and breathe, doesn’t mean you do any of them very well. I have seen a lot of people have good success switching to a standing workstation, but I have also seen it open a new can of worms for many others with foot, back and neck issues.  

The benefit of most of the new workstations is that they are adjustable to allow you to stand or sit with the push of a button, but my skepticism questions whether people are actually mixing it up throughout the day.  Staying in one position for a longtime with less than ideal posture can start to become a problem and pain can be a common repercussion.  Our bodies are happier either moving, or laying down, but we regularly require them to stay vertically still for long periods of time, which really requires some mindful awareness of how to stack all of our bones up properly.  If you are logging hours in either position, I recommend reading my article on Why Hips Hurt and watching the two videos below on How to Stand and How to Sit for a frame of reference on how to properly stay still.

 

That being said, I suggest that you move as much as possible and switch from standing to sitting every hour if feasible.  

  • If you work on a laptop, buy an external monitor and set it up high enough to be in the center of your sight line
  • Place your keyboard and mouse in a place that you don’t have to reach for them
  • Buy an office chair that has adjustable features and is big or small enough for your body
  • Try to notice if you always end up reaching, turning, leaning, or looking in one direction all day and tweak your set up to keep your world in front of you
  • Don’t work on your bed or couch for any length of time

Exercising

We are what we do repeatedly.  You will get more out of dripping small doses of movement, stretching and exercise throughout your day than you will from staying still for eight hours then going for a walk in the evening.  Your computer will suck your attention and your posture into its’ screen for long periods of time for the benefit of your job, but to the detriment of your health. Take plenty of microbreaks, reach up and take a deep breath, stand up and march around the room, do a couple of squats, twist your trunk then sit back down and get back to work.  You will feel better for it, and you will probably be more productive if your back and neck don’t hurt.

Due to the pandemic many people lost their access to their favourite group fitness classes and team sports and have been left to figure out how to exercise at home on their own, some more successfully than others.  Some people love exercising while others tolerate it, and will only do it if they can go to a place and have someone tell them what to do. Either way, you are responsible to find your own meaningful level of movement that gives you both a physical and mental break from your workstation.  

  • Go for mid-day walks
  • Find online fitness classes
  • Look for outdoor group fitness classes
  • Buy some home fitness equipment
  • Dance, run, move in a way that makes you breathe deeper more regularly
  • Go see a physiotherapist to help you problem solve

Here are some good basic movement exercises that you could work into a short routine to keep you moving during the day:

Understanding Stress

Everybody experiences stress in their own way, but some people are much more tuned in to how it actually effects both their body and their thought process.  External events that we don’t control can pose a threat to our perceived state of wellbeing and cause us to worry.  We deal with our worries by consciously thinking about them and by subconsciously holding tension in our bodies.  Some people have developed a much broader set of life skills than others when it comes to dealing with stress.  Men and women tend to take very different approaches as do people that have had a stable, loving childhood compared to those that have experienced trauma at a young age.  Our life experience to date creates the lens that we see the world through and in turn gives us our own relationship with stress as it relates to our body and our mind.

Different things will cause different people to experience stress, which makes a person’s perception of an event more important that the objective reality of the event when it comes to easing their worries.  We all have our own triggers and will tend to react by holding tension in various parts of our bodies depending on the overt emotion we are experiencing.  Our muscles and the tissues around our organs tend to be a reflection of current emotional state and tend to be largely responsible for most of the pain and discomfort that we feel.  Persistent, unresolved stress can absolutely be the root cause of many people’s back, neck and stomach pains.  Chronic tension and pain are your body’s messages to you that you need to try and change something physically and/or emotionally.

As a physiotherapist, I have the tools to help people by releasing some of the physical tension that they have built up and by teaching them how to become more aware of how they are using their bodies.  It is too easy to get caught up in what you are cognitively working on and ignore the messages that your body is trying to send you, so it is important that you find outlets for both your physical and mental wellbeing.  Be open to reading books on personal development, talk with friends, visit a counsellor, but most importantly make your own health a priority by paying attention to your body.

Interesting Books to consider:

Being Social

The group of people that have had one of the hardest times during the pandemic are the ones that struggled to find a way to be social while locked down and working from home. We have an innate need to connect with each other and tend to amplify our own anxieties when we are stuck at home with our own thoughts only talking to two-dimensional people on Zoom.  We crave human touch and need real people to bounce ideas off in order to keep our own in check.  I became the only social outing that many people were making for months at a time and got to see how people’s own rules for themselves affected the tension in their bodies and their overall mental health.  The people that generally followed the rules, but made some basic exceptions in order to preserve a small social circle for themselves seemed to do the best mentally and physically while stuck at home.   

It is important to reach out to your friends and family if you are feeling isolated or if you feel that they are isolating themselves.  Make a point of creating and maintaining friendships around you because everyone needs support and a reason to get out of the house.  

 

Creating Boundaries & Structure

Some people I have talked to love working from home and have no interest in going back to the office, while others are uncomfortable how much their two worlds have collided.  It can be hard to separate work life from home life when work has infiltrated your home out of necessity.  It can also be hard to recreate the structure that actually going into the office every day created in your life.  Less structure creates more flexibility which can be great for some and a challenge for others.  Some people thrive understructure and others find it stressfully confining.  Conversely, some people thrive given flexibility while others procrastinate until they have a gun to their head.  Whichever predicament you find yourself in, it is important to be mindful of your own tendencies and understand how much stress your work-life (im)balance may be creating.

 

Seeking Help

If you are having trouble with any or all of the issues that I have been discussing above, I encourage you to start looking for someone to help you.  The people that I see that are genuinely the most happy are the ones that have made a point of building a small team of supportive people around them: family members, friends, physios, counsellors, trainers and/or coaches. Life can be challenging to get through alone and working from home can create a new set of unfamiliar physical and mental stressors.  Read, connect, exercise, breathe, move and get some work done in there too.

For stories about how your body and your brain actually work, check out my book:

 

Other Interesting Blog posts:

Why Hips Hurt: An illustrated explanation

What does it mean to be hypermobile?

What doctors don’t understand about pain

Full Blog Archive list

Please feel free to leave a comment below and I will try my best to respond.

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