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Simple Self Care for Work

You have a headache. You’ve been at it for a full day now. Working on that project, staring at your computer screen, and you’re so close to being finished… and yet. You’re slowing down. Your body is feeling stiff from sitting for so long. You have a headache. You’re starting to get distracted. All of which causes you to be impatient, because you’re so close to being finished! If you can just push through the next few hours you’ll be done. I mean, sure, you’re still going to need to take time to review it tomorrow, or get started on the next stage of it, but you told yourself you were going to get this part done today and why are you flagging now when the finish line is in sight? Oh, and you have a headache.

Do you:

  1. Take a break. Get a glass of water to hydrate. Stretch for a few minutes. Give your eyes something to look at other than the computer screen.

  2. Stubbornly continue to sit at your desk and ignore everything other than the work you’re trying to finish.

  3. Down some aspirin with the now cold mug of caffeine that’s sitting at your elbow while staring unblinkingly at the screen.

  4. Idly ponder the merits of upgrading to a standing desk or getting one of those exercise ball desk chairs while shifting uncomfortably in your current chair while continuing to stare at the screen.

If you chose D – those are both excellent things to consider. Personally I like the exercise ball option, as I’m not great at sitting still for long periods of time. Also I found that the novelty of having a standing desk wore off pretty quickly (for me at least, I know some people who absolutely swear by them). Although there is also something to be said for investing in a good desk chair. Take some time to go around and test some new ones out, see if you find one that you like. I used to think all desk chairs were created equal until I tried one that was just amazingly comfortable. Sadly, I was not able to get it at the time and I cannot remember what brand it was. But none of this addresses the current situation. You’re achy, have a headache, and your attention is starting to wander.

If you chose C – I have concerns. If you chose B – I totally get it. We’ve all been there. But I’m also experienced enough now to recognize that it’s not a good option. Which leaves us with A – taking a short break. Also known as self-care.

Self-care isn’t always elaborate, like spending a day at a spa. Sometimes self-care is as simple as getting up and taking a few minutes to stretch your muscles and move around to get the circulation going again. Sometimes it’s as simple as giving your eyes something to look at other than a computer screen. Sometimes it’s as simple as getting a glass of water because you’re probably slightly dehydrated. All of these things will help refocus your attention on the work at hand, so let’s look at them a bit more in-depth.

Stretching at work has multiple benefits. It can help reduce stress, reduce fatigue, relieve sore muscles, and potentially prevent injury or muscle strain. Stretching will increase your circulation and help improve your posture. It will help alleviate tension in your muscles. If there’s a problem area, like lower back pain, you can do stretches to specifically focus on and reduce that (not to mention, remember that bit about stretching improving posture? It gives your muscles a chance to realign, which is what will help with posture, which will help alleviate lower back pain). If you’re into yoga, there are entire yoga series designed to be done at the desk or in the office which take between 5-10 minutes to complete. If yoga isn’t your cup of tea, there are other stretches and even exercises that can be done in the office. There’re apps, YouTube videos, and websites galore on this very topic. So give it a try. Plus, as stretching relives muscle tension, it may help with that headache.

Now, after you’ve finished reading this article, take some time to look out the window. Find a nice picture to look at. Focus your eyes on anything that isn’t a screen (which means no looking at a phone, tablet, or TV either). There’s actually a thing called digital eye strain, which has unsurprisingly been increasing in frequency over the past few decades. And staring at a computer screen for too long is absolutely a contributing factor. Symptoms can include dry eyes, blurred or double vision, eye fatigue, general eye discomfort, and … wait for it… headaches! The general guideline is to give your eyes a full break for at least 15 minutes for every 2 hours spent looking at a computer screen, and for every 20 minutes at the computer look off into the distance while practicing your thousand-yard stare. Rather than a thousand yards though, you should actually be focusing on something roughly 20 feet away for around 20 seconds (known as the 20/20/20 rule). Also, do something about that screen glare, and maybe get some eye drops.

While you’re taking a break to stretch and look at anything that’s not a screen after finishing this article, get that glass of water. Because guess what can cause headaches? Dehydration! Also a lack of caffeine, stress, not enough sleep, consistently loud noises, noxious fumes, and excessively bright lights… the causes of headaches is honestly a pretty long list. And unless you’re one of those conscientious people who have the giant water bottle that let’s you know how much water you should be consuming on an hourly basis to stay hydrated, there’s a good chance you haven’t had enough water today. So practice the absolutely simplest form of self-care and potential headache treatment and have a glass of water.

If feeling better and relieving tension and heading off potential problems and dealing with headaches isn’t enough to convince you that stretching, alleviating eye strain, and drinking water are good things to do – let me put it in terms of corporate speak: these things will help increase productivity. So go! Shoo! Stop looking at the digital screen for at least 15 minutes!

…seriously. Why are you still reading?


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