I work primarily at home and have so for several years. As a travel writer, my weeks swing wildly from travel, full bore extroverted energy to quiet, solitary and computer-focused days. It’s taken some time to figure out how to set up a healthy home stay workday and be productive for the long-run.
As I write the Corona Virus is taking its toll around the world and the news is sobering. At this point social distancing seems to help flatten out the infection rate so a lot of us are in self-quarantine or lock-down. We’re watching the news, hours of escapist videos, scrolling endlessly for updates, working remotely and it all leads to sitting more than ever. For those of us new to this more sedentary lifestyle, there are strategies to take care of your mental as well as physical well-being.
How to beat the odds
“Sitting is the new smoking.” Back pain, carpal tunnel symptoms, sore neck and shoulders, sciatica – the list of what your body can develop from being sedentary is endless. “We weren’t designed to sit,” claims Dr. Joan Vernikos, former director of NASA’s Life Sciences Division, “The body is a perpetual motion machine.” Luckily there are daily and weekly strategies to manage that need.
I like to work out at the local pool every other weekday but the gym is closed during the Pandemic. Stepping into the warm water for an exercise class has been my medicine. Before taking to the water I wore out three treadmill machines and balanced out a lower body, cardio workout with yoga stretches. It helped me maintain but the toll on my boomer hips, originally injured as a yoga teacher, forced me to find another workout and led me to the water. For the time being, I’m back to my home stay, work day routine: a brisk walk outdoors, a bit of the treadmill and gentle yoga on my mat.
Whatever your age, find what works for you and expect a trial and error process. Be gentle with yourself but committed. Once you find a workout, stick with it until it no longer delivers, then find the next routine. Start slowly! You’re in this for the long haul whether the self-quarantining ends tomorrow or next month.
Find your perfect timing
Exercising in the morning is best for me. Otherwise it’s too easy to let the workout slide and I miss the bonus of feeling invigorated, like I’ve accomplished something once finally sitting down to work. Here are a few stretches I use first thing in the morning and also one of my earliest blog posts when I was still a yoga teacher!
Break it up
As a writer and videographer I spend hours daily online. I juggle my phone for quick edits and social media with my laptop for writing and other software. That leads to hours of sitting and it takes its toll.
- The best advice is to change positions every hour. It can be as simple as standing for a few stretches, walking to get a drink of water, doing another activity for a few minutes.
- Reach for your toes and hang over to get blood to your brain while you wait for the tea water to warm up. Get your blood moving a bit then get back to work.
Consider using a standing desk for part of the day. There are ways to set them up without a big investment. I found an affordable tabletop laptop holder that’s adjustable for your height and an external keyboard.
At home there’s no coffee and cooler chatter to distract or lure us away from sitting long hours. You have to change it up on your own. Shift positions as you work and keep your laptop at a level that keeps pressure off your wrists and elbows. Avoid carpal tunnel problems at all costs. I’ve found that having my wrists at a level lower than my elbows and fairly straight while typing helps enormously.
Here’s an old video from my Drivetime Yoga days! I worked with physical therapist/ergonomic expert, Julie Garner to put the techniques together.
Manage your work setup
I rarely work at a desk and now use a daybed or lounger to keep my legs straight or a pillow under my knees. I use a lap desk. It has a cushion on the bottom to stabilize the computer. My mouse is at a level below my elbow. My head has support and my back is fairly straight. It just works for me and with good, supported posture I can work longer without cramping or the distraction of muscle pain.
That’s what works for me most of the time. Find what works for you.
Food and Drink
When you’re working at home for the first time it’s tempting to over-eat when the refrigerator is within easy reach and there aren’t any witnesses! It’s also too easy to forget to drink enough water. I keep a refillable water bottle near. Some like plain water and no one needs the extra calories of sweetened drinks but I add fresh orange juice or lemon slices to my water. It makes it easier to drink more. Find what works and determine to drink at full bottle a day. Your skin and digestion will thank you. It’s also a good technique to keep hunger at bay.
Keep caffeine under control. It’s simple enough to keep a cup of tea or coffee with you when you’re working at home. I limit the number of cups. You’ll sleep better and should you get to a point where you didn’t sleep well or have to work late on a deadline, that’s when extra caffeine will be more effective.
Stock up on veggies and fruit for your home stay. Keep tempting empty calorie foods out of the pantry. Get your family on board too or at least don’t let them bully you into eating more or differently than you want.
Watch the snacking. Here again portion control will keep you from feeling like you’re denying yourself anything. I had to find something satisfying that also helped fill my tummy. My solution? 3 cups of Barely Naked popcorn or fresh popcorn without butter once a day. If I have a home made fruit smoothie tricked out with ground flax and a scoop of protein powder. Having a bit of popcorn a few hours later helps me get to dinner time without being overly hungry. The roughage helps as well.
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Keep it fresh
Get some fresh air every day. That can be as simple as enjoying the breeze through an open window for five minutes, stepping out onto your home’s entry way, walking out to the street and back inside.
Take care of your eyes too. I learned a technique years ago. It’s adapted from Deepak Chopra’s early Ayurveda work.
Step outside on a sunny day and standing comfortably with your legs easily apart for balance, closer your eyes. Lift your face to the sun with your eyes closed and soak up the glow for about 15 seconds. Then open your eyes away from the sun and stretch your orbs. It’s as simple as looking up, down then side by side a few times. Roll your eyes in a circle one direction and then back. Blink and return to work.
Here’s another short video about eye stress for travelers (It works for office workers too.)
Another technique is grounding. We spend so much time out of nature and inundated with WiFi, electrical impulses and buzzing motors. Try these techniques to relax and balance some of that.
Fight to find freedom in your home stay workday
Yes, we may be in quarantine for some time and many are confined to small spaces. We’re so lucky to have online connections when many are without even that. I’ve been connecting with friends more than ever. Before I didn’t want to intrude and now feels like the brakes are off, although I’m keeping the calls and emails to a low hum. My introvert doesn’t mind the confinement. My extrovert self is struggling a bit. I used to keep it in balance by going to a few weekly gatherings, meeting for coffee, going to a lecture or museum. Now most of that can be done online. It’s been a freeing process to join Zoom Happy Hours, set up a Google Hangout or a Netflix watch party. There are more options popping up weekly. Watch for them.
So, consider this an invitation. Leave a comment, a suggestion a word of encouragement. I’ll comment back.
Thanks for reading.