Lucy Swift is an Occupational Therapist at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital NHS Trust working with patients who have chronic musculoskeletal pain. Lucy provides advice about how to manage screen time while working from home and shares information about some helpful apps that can support you with this.
My name is Lucy Swift, and I am an occupational therapist working with patients who have chronic musculoskeletal pain. Like many people, I am currently required to work from home, and I am finding that I’m spending a lot more time in front of the laptop, or looking at my phone for WhatsApp messages, and not moving as much as I’m used to.
After 3 weeks of working from home, I have noticed that I am feeling more lethargic, my eyes are sore and my joints are getting stiff.
So I’ve given myself a talking to, and decided I should probably take some of my own advice.
Firstly, I have set up a comfortable workstation. We don’t have the luxury of a separate office in our flat, so each evening the workstation has to be dismantled and return to being a dining table. This is a good thing, because it means I pack away the laptop at clocking off time, and I’m not tempted to work into the evening.
Now, I know what a comfortable workstation should look like.
But at home I thought a table and dining chair would be just fine. However, after a few hours I found that the chair I was using was too low, which meant my shoulders were elevated, creating tension. I put a firm cushion on the chair and that has made a big difference. My shoulders are now more relaxed.
I made sure there was plenty of legroom under the table. Sometimes I use a footrest (aka encyclopaedia – who even has encyclopaedias these days?!)
I have a separate mouse so my right arm and shoulder gets a bit of movement.
What I don’t have is a laptop stand. Ideally the top of the screen would be level with my eye height. Then my neck wouldn’t have to work so hard to hold my head up! Maybe I’ll use a box file or some books to raise my laptop, and see if I can source a separate keyboard. I would use a separate monitor if I had one. Or maybe the TV.
I have popped a small cushion behind my back as a lumbar support. It’s not perfect but it’ll do.
But probably more important than all of the above, is how often I move. I wish I had a height adjustable desk, but I don’t. I don’t even have a desk raiser. Then I remembered that thing I talk to patients about ALL THE TIME.
Pacing. Changing position or demand on your body BEFORE your body tells you to.
Pacing is hard. I’m not gonna lie to you. Even when your back, neck and shoulders are on fire, you’re still thinking “I’ll just finish this sentence….” before you stand up and stretch.
Luckily there are loads of things to help with this. Before we get into the technological assistance…
I have found that if I plan my day carefully, it can prompt me to pace it better. I stretch before I sit down. (I may do “5 minute Yoga with Adrienne” on YouTube if I’m really good). I try and stick to my usual work hours, which means I take a lunch break at 12.30. I schedule video or phone meetings mid-morning or mid-afternoon if possible, and I walk around while talking. That’s easier to do than in a meeting at work (I just need to remember to do it!). After I finish a call with a patient (which may have been intense. And tense), I stand up and stretch before writing the notes. If it’s been a particularly challenging call I might throw in a downward dog. I also drink A LOT of tea. Loose leaf green tea is my current preference. I also have a pea sized bladder (hurray!) which is conducive to pacing.
While sitting, neck stretches and shoulder rolls are essential. When I’m at work I’m frequently turning to chat to colleagues. And I wouldn’t constantly be at the computer. So I go and do some laundry or unload the dishwasher, or just dance around the kitchen. I find wrist rotations are also good, and I have a vertical mouse which I sometimes use for better positioning.
I’m also a huge fan of meditation, for many reasons. I could say a lot about mindfulness, but for the purposes of this podcast I will just say – take a short break mid-morning to meditate for 5 or 10 mins, and you won’t regret it. That email can wait!
So on to technology… of the several mindfulness meditation apps I have tried….
I keep coming back to my absolute favourite, Headspace. It has some free stuff, but it’s worth subscribing to. Calm is also very good (but you have to subscribe if you want Matthew McConaughey reading you a bedtime story). Oak is totally free, and includes sound effects.
Now on to the apps for pacing:
Firstly, the Stand Up app (for IPhone). This is so simple – you choose the sound you want it to make, to remind you to get up frequently. Mine is currently set to the “duck typing” noise every 20 minutes.
Then you have Break Time (the same thing for android phones).
Now for the computer:
Work Rave (for Windows) – this app is the absolute dog’s whatsits. A free reminder to take micro breaks, tea breaks and set your daily limit (includes stretches and eye exercises).
If you have a Mac, try Time Out or Stretchly.
There is also an app called “Stretching Exercises at Home – Flexibility training”
I like to have a soothing screensaver (I had to cancel the trip of a lifetime to Japan, so I’ve tried to bring Japan to me on my screen).
What else have I found helpful?
I go into the garden for lunch/breaks. I have that all important one walk a day as soon as I log off. I have also tried to bring the outside in by having several plants in the room.
Plants absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen. They also soak up toxic chemicals. According to NASA, the top 10 air-purifying plants are:
- Peace Lily
- Golden Pothos
- English Ivy (use with caution!)
- Gerbera Daisy
- Mother-in-law’s tongue
- Bamboo Palm
- Red-edge Dracaena
- Spider Plant
I’m a real novice gardener, but if these can help, I’ll get them all!
And finally…. I try and snack every couple of hours and drink plenty of water. (Sounds obvious but it’s so easy to shut off from these basic needs when you’re in work mode).
So hopefully all of the above will make working from home a bit more pleasant. Stay safe everyone and look after yourselves.