A month into Stay-At-Home mandates, I have adapted to a new schedule with much more computer work at home. I’m a wet-lab kinda scientist; I like to be on my feet all day running experiments. So here are a couple things I’m doing to stay physically and mentally happy with all this screen time.
If I don’t take care of my eyes during screen time, I get headaches and eye strain. Here are some things I do to prevent sore eyes.
I’ve noticed when I get into a paper (or video game), I tend to not blink as often. I have to consciously remind myself to blink more, so that I don’t end up with dry eyes. If you struggle with this, you can also invest in some artificial tear drops.
Blue Light Lenses
Blue light lenses are glasses that filter out blue light. I got mine a few years ago when I was doing a lot of data analysis for a project. Spending hours upon hours staring at my computer caused a lot of eye strain! I opted to buy a pair of blue light-blocking glasses. You can get prescription lenses with blue light filters. I don’t need prescription glasses, so mine are clear lenses. I would like to put a disclaimer that the American Academy of Ophthalmology says you do not need blue light-filtering glasses. There is no evidence that blue light causes eye degeneration, and there is not a large-scale, blind study which indicates blue light-filtering lenses reduce eye strain. For me personally, I found that wearing blue light lenses and turning on blue light filters on my phone has decreased the amount of headaches and eye strain for myself, considerably. There very well might be a different reason for this; perhaps the glasses are just a placebo, or wearing the glasses somehow encourages an increase in blinking. But whatever it is, it’s working for me.
The American Academy of Ophthalmology encourages people to take frequent, short breaks when using the computer. Every 20 minutes or so, look at an object that is at least 20 ft away for at least 20 seconds; this is called the 20-20-20 rule!
Another thing I learned during my first big data analysis project: good posture is key to getting through long days at the computer. This can take a lot of practice if you’re from America; we seem to have lost the art of good posture! But after making this a goal to work towards, I’ve found I can sit for much longer and without any back pain.
Avoid Laptop Neck
You may have heard of “text neck” but this can be an issue with laptops, too. An easy way to work on posture is to move your computer to a higher position on your desk so that you are no longer looking downward. You can even stack some old textbooks underneath your laptop or sit at a lower height. This helps keep your head level and prevents muscle strain in your neck.
Hide the Leaf
This may sound silly, but it helps me remember the technique. I learned about this from an article featuring Jenn Sherer, who teaches people how to reduce back and joint pain.
Sherer recommends not focusing on straightening your upper back--that will come naturally when you fix your posture in the lower back. Stand up and imagine you are the classic image of Adam in the garden of Eden from the Christian bible. Picture the point on your pubic bone where a fig leaf would be on Adam. When you bend to sit down, imagine hiding the leaf. Move your pubic bone through your legs, so you end up with a crease between your pelvis and thighs. Your butt will stick out a little, your lower back will curve slightly, you will engage your lower back muscles, and you will naturally sit more straight. I’ve found that sitting like this makes me feel significantly better. It took a few weeks of constantly reminding myself to do this, and I'm still not perfect at it, but I don't get back aches from sitting any more. I learned about this technique from an article on NPR titled “To Fix That Pain In Your Back, You Might Have To Change The Way You Sit”. Check it out!
When you are taking that 20-20-20 eye break, it would be a good time to stand up and stretch, too! Sitting for too long can be bad for your health, and stretching for a few minutes is a simple good way to keep your muscles relaxed.
Declutter the workspace
If you are like me, then a messy desk can feel overwhelming. My desk may have a lot on it, but I need it to be organized or my mind feels just as cluttered. I keep my desk relatively organized and it helps me stay focused.
In 2018 I presented a poster at the Undergraduate Research Biology Program’s annual conference. The keynote speaker was Dr. Mohab Ibrahim, a pain specialist and director of the Comprehensive Pain Management Clinic at Banner University Medical Center South.
He presented his research on green light therapy for the management of chronic pain. Dr. Ibrahim found that green light therapy was effective in a pre-clinical model for chronic pain. He talked about how a family member inspired him because they would go outside to their garden any time they had a headache. I am not in chronic pain, but ever since, I try to keep a plant on my desk. When I need a mental break, I like to look at it and relax.
Take short walks
People in Japan have actively practiced Shinrin Yoku, or forest bathing, for some time. Spending time outside can be fantastic for your health! I have the good fortune of living in the PNW, with a park full of conifers in my neighborhood. But you don’t need to live near the forest to get the benefits of enjoying time outside. This article from the Mayo Clinic details how sitting for an extended period of time can be dangerous for one’s health.
I’ve also found that taking short walks between tasks prevents me from getting burnt out. I return feeling ready to tackle my work.
Hide your phone
You already know this one. Just do it. Or at least set it face down on your desk.
Drink more water
Now that we are inside all day, it can be easy to forget to drink enough water. We were running low on TP the other day, and I considered drinking less water just to save (Luckily, Fred Meyer’s came through with TP for sale).
I keep my water bottle on my desk, within my line of sight. I aim to refill it at least 3 times a day.
Those are my tips for working from home! What do you do to make working from home a little easier?