Work from home, stay healthy

Many professionals have turned to remote working as pandemic fears restricted mobility. Work-from-home (WFH) practices have mostly been a welcomed change, especially for those strained by the often stressful, repetitive, and intense office environments.

But that’s not to say that it doesn’t have its challenges. Switching to a WFH routine can take time as you adapt to a new work arrangement. And the familiarity of your home environment doesn’t necessarily make things easier. The stress associated with working long hours and prolonged isolation are some of the most common challenges highlighted by remote working professionals. And if you’re not careful, all these can take a toll on your health. 

So, safeguarding your physical and mental well-being is essential to ensure that you enjoy the many perks of WFH in the long run. But how can you stay healthy and get the best out of your WFH experience?

1. Follow basic work ergonomics

Ergonomics can help avoid long-term injury and provide optimum comfort as you spend long hours seated in front of a screen. And most offices are purposefully designed and equipped with ergonomics in mind. However, your home is not. And over time, your WFH habits could lead to a series of health issues, from neck and shoulder pains to repetitive strain injuries.

So, when you’re transitioning to a WFH practice, it’s essential to integrate ergonomics into your workspace so you can remain healthy and enjoy your new WFH lifestyle.

Here are some important steps to create a healthy workspace at home.

  • Invest in a comfortable office chair with good back support, armrests, and adjustable height.
  • Adopt the right posture. Sit with your back, shoulders, and neck straight, and feet firmly on the ground. Hips and knees should be at the same level, and arms must rest at a 90-degree angle on the armrest.
  • Keep everything you need nearby to avoid straining or twisting. Place the computer screen at eye level. Keep the keyboard and mouse at an easily reachable distance and at the same level as your wrist and elbows.
  • Ensure that your workspace is well lit to avoid straining your eyes. Look away from the screen every 20 minutes and focus on a distant object.
  • If you spend an excessive amount of time seated, invest in an adjustable standing desk. Switch between the seated and standing desks from time to time, but maintain the correct posture right throughout.

2. Make exercise a priority

Work from home exercise
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Prolonged immobility and poor work ergonomics could place undue strain on some muscles and weaken others. From heart disease to type 2 diabetes, there are many health issues linked to a sedentary lifestyle. This is why staying active with regular exercise is essential to minimize health risks. It can also help reduce stress, boost your mood, and improve your cognitive functions.

Here are steps to integrate a more active routine while you work from home.

  • Allocate a specific time in your schedule for a daily workout. It can include jogging, going to the gym, a yoga session, or even a brisk walk. Switch between different activities to create variety.
  • Include activities that you enjoy such as swimming, hiking, or dancing. This will make it more enjoyable and motivate you to continue.
  • Opt for short, intense workouts when you’re pressed for time.
  • Dual-task to get more done when you’re particularly busy. For example, listen to a podcast instead of music while you’re on the treadmill.
  • Practice 5-minute stretching exercises several times a day. These can include shoulder and upper arm stretches, head turns, chin tucks, and other simple stretches you can easily do in your home office. They can help release muscle tension, increase blood flow, and improve posture

3. Set up a work schedule

A sudden transition to WFH could make it difficult to separate your personal and work lives. This could lead to many unhealthy work patterns such as procrastination during the day and working through the night to make up for lost hours. Losing control of your day could ultimately mean compromising on sleep, meals, and resting time.

So, if you want to enjoy the benefits of a healthy work-life balance, then you need to set up a work schedule. Define when you start and finish work and schedule regular breaks.

This can bring order to irregular work patterns and help you adjust to a schedule that is consistent with your typical office routine. It can also help you overcome unhealthy WFH habits such as overworking and skipping meals.

4. Take 2-minute breaks

Working for long hours without a break can lead to increased stress and burnout. But taking regular breaks may not always be practical when you’re struggling to meet a tight deadline.

So, plan for mini-breaks every hour. Stand up straight, close your eyes, and take deep breaths. Watch your inhalations and exhalations for 2 minutes. Set your alarm every hour as a reminder.

This small exercise has many benefits. It will provide a much-needed break for your eyes and your mind. Deep breathing can reduce stress, regulate blood pressure, and improve attention. And regular breaks can help boost focus and productivity. Besides, taking a mini 2-minute break has a psychological advantage. Bite-size breaks are more appealing compared to longer ones, so you’ll be more willing to try them out.

5. Stay hydrated

Work from home drink water
Photo by Daniel Brunsteiner from Pexels

Dehydration has many negative health impacts, which could ultimately affect your work performance. Studies show that dehydration can lead to serious health issues, such as hypertension and kidney failure. It can also affect important cognitive functions, such as memory and concentration

So, keep a water bottle at your desk and set yourself reminders if you need a regular prompt to drink. Getting up occasionally to get a bottle of water could also be the perfect excuse to take a break from long hours of sitting. If the taste of water doesn’t excite you, add a slice of cucumber, lemon, or strawberry. Cut down on coffee and fizzy drinks and increase your intake of water-rich food such as cucumber and watermelon.

6. Put an end to eating at your desk

Unhealthy snacking and working lunches have become common practices with negative health consequences in the long run. Having meals while distracted by work could easily lead to overeating. And eating fast without chewing properly could upset the digestion process and increase the risks of heart disease and diabetes.

So avoid skipping meals and schedule regular breaks. Have your meals and snacks away from your desk.  If you often snack as an emotional response to severe stress, take a break from work and relax. Replace unhealthy snacks with healthy alternatives. And take a few minutes to practice mindful eating. This can make your meals more pleasurable and give you a moment to wind down.

7. Practice daily meditation

Meditation is an excellent practice for both mental and physical well-being. Studies show that meditation can help reduce stress, anxiety, and depression and improve focus and memory. It’s also found to lower blood pressure, boost the immune system, and improve metabolism and sleep quality.

All these can have a significant effect on your overall health and work performance. In fact, companies like Google and General Mills are already using mindfulness meditation to boost employee productivity.

So, make it part of your daily routine as well by allocating 15-20 minutes each morning for mindfulness or breath meditation. You can sit quietly and practice on your own or use a guided meditation video. Mobile apps such as Insight Timer can also help you settle into a daily meditation practice.

8. Get social

Work from home virtual meeting hangout
Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash

Work-related interactions that you typically encounter at the office could drastically drop as you switch to WFH. So, it doesn’t come as a surprise that loneliness is constantly flagged as one of the biggest challenges encountered by telecommuting employees. Working for an extended time without social contact could even lead to anxiety and depression.

So, taking steps to tackle isolation is important to remain healthy and productive when you’re working from home. Here are some steps you can adopt.

  • Schedule virtual hangouts with colleagues at least once a week so you can catch up outside work hours.
  • Become part of online social communities related to work or personal interests such as a hobby.
  • Call friends and family regularly to stay in touch.
  • Allocate sufficient time to spend with your kids and partner.
  • Adopt a pet.
  • Join a virtual class.

9. Get outdoors

For many people, working from home represents long hours seated in front of a screen. Over time, this can affect your mood and stress levels, not to mention your physical health.

Getting outdoors a few times a day and breathing in the fresh air could provide an excellent change of scenery from your sedentary indoor routine. It can improve concentration and memory, boost the immune system, elevate your mood, and make you happier and relaxed. And according to studies, a simple walk in the woods can lower blood pressure levels, reduce cancer risk, and have a positive impact on mental health. Even looking at a few pictures of nature could have a positive cognitive effect.

So step outside and take a short walk for a few minutes each day. Use your mid-day breaks to soak in the outdoor air. And natural sunlight is a great way to get a healthy dose of vitamin D. So make sure that your workspace at home gets plenty of it.

Work from home get outdoors
Image by Alfonso Cerezo from Pixabay

10. Avoid taking up more than you can chew

The line between work and personal life can initially get hazy as you switch to WFH. For instance, it’s natural to overestimate the time at hand and take up more personal activities like household chores and additional errands. And the result? Increased stress that could keep you from achieving a productive work-life balance. And over time, stress can take a toll on your mental and physical health.

Just remember, spending more hours at home doesn’t mean you have more time to take up extra tasks. Your work still requires the same number of hours as it did in the office. Whatever time savings you gain by working remotely, such as cutting down on commuting, should go towards optimizing your personal life, and not to take up more household responsibilities.

So, understand your limits and avoid committing to too many activities. A daily schedule can guide you through your routine and help create boundaries to separate work from your personal life. And if you want to contribute more, take up small tasks one at a time, whether it’s fixing a loose doorknob or running an extra errand.

A final thought

WFH has many unique benefits and could be the perfect solution for a better work-life balance. But it also has its own pitfalls, from prolonged immobility to increased stress due to poor time management. And the consequences of these could be brutal and can include severe health issues in the long run.

Remember, your health should be a priority whether you work in an office or at home. So, take time to integrate healthy practices to protect your mental and physical wellbeing and enjoy a productive work-life balance.