The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has led many employers to move from office settings to remote work environments. In fact, nearly two in three working Americans are currently at home, according to a study by the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research.
While employees grapple with the new challenges of working from home, many haven’t considered the impact remote working can have on their mental and physical wellness.
Working from home can create surprising health risks for employees. Read on to find out how to stay safe while working from home.
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Common Health Risks of Working From Home
Back and neck strain
Due to financial concerns, lack of space, or the sudden transition out of the office, many at-home employees are using a less-than-ideal office setup. An unsupportive chair, small laptop screen, and not enough desk space can lead to pain in your neck and back — especially if you’re working long hours.
Looking to ditch bothersome back pain triggered by a poor work setup? Try to avoid working on the couch or from bed, as both can lead to slouching and increased strain.
Aim for a proper work posture. Have your arms rest on your desk at a 90-degree angle when typing. Adjust your laptop or desktop screen so that you are not tilting your head down, which can lead to significant strain on your neck.
A powerful weapon against back and neck strain is activity. Set a goal to move at least once an hour during your workday. Whether it is to refill your coffee mug or do a simple stretch, staying active throughout the day can improve stiffness in your neck and back.
While your couch and bed typically don’t provide enough back support, even a dining room chair can lead to muscle aches after an extended period of time. To avoid muscle aches, get in tune with how you sit. Be aware of body position — keep your back straight and feet flat on the floor. Refill your water bottle regularly. Drinking plenty of water throughout the workday will help keep your muscles hydrated and healthy. Feel uncomfortable? Don’t ignore it. Doing so could lead to a chronic issue.
A recent survey by OnePoll found that 6 in 10 respondents often get screen-related aches and pains, with the average respondent having pain 3 days a week.
Too much time spent staring at a screen can create eye strain, which can cause soreness, fatigue, dryness, and difficulty focusing. After hours spent in front of a screen, you may have blurry vision or a slight headache.
Increased screen time can even impact your sleep. Blue light keeps you awake. Using digital screens right before bed can make it harder to fall asleep — and too little sleep can increase your risk for disease, obesity, and depression.
Doctors from the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) recommend the 20-20-20 rule to reduce eye strain and prevent eye damage. The 20-20-20 rule means that every 20 minutes, you should look away from your screen at an object at least 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds. There’s little evidence that blue light blocking glasses and filters are effective.
Social isolation caused by COVID-19 can lead to increased feelings of depression and anxiety. If you’re feeling lonely as a result of COVID-19, you are not alone.
Address feelings of isolation by ensuring consistent social interactions. Call or video chat with loved ones, phone an old friend, or have lunch virtually with a colleague. Aim to engage with everyone you would under normal circumstances. Don’t wait for someone to call you. Taking action is empowering and can make you feel more in control. Make a plan to contact at least one person each day.
Try to maintain a chain of communication with close friends and family. When chatting with loved ones, be honest about your emotions. COVID-19 has changed the world, and it is likely they may have similar stresses and concerns.
Burnout is a common result of working from home. A home isn’t meant to be an office. While it is convenient to have work responsibilities just a few steps away, your work life can intrude on much-needed relaxation time.
Set a schedule and have strict times for yourself to log in and out of work. Once the workday is complete, tuck those job-related electronics and materials in a spot that’s away from your living space. Limit time with news and social media, increase time listening to music, and read or listen to an audiobook in the evening.
Be sure to set aside time to recharge. Taking a quick walk or spending time outdoors and unplugged from your devices can help Limprove your mental and physical well-being. Even a quick break can pay big rewards.
For more information, call UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital at 1-877-624-4100 or 412-624-1000.
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UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital is a nationally recognized leader in mental health clinical care, research, and education. It is one of the nation’s foremost university-based psychiatric care facilities through its integration with the Department of Psychiatry of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. UPMC Western Psychiatric is the hub of UPMC Western Behavioral Health, a network of nearly 60 community-based programs providing specialized mental health and addiction care for children, adolescents, adults, and seniors throughout western Pennsylvania.