Do you have the telltale signs: stiff neck and shoulders, tired eyes, fatigue? Not everyone works at a computer all day, but in this burgeoning information age it’s a good bet that most people spend at least a few hours every day at some kind of desk, staring at a monitor, with the resulting symptoms Whether you’re a freelance writer working from home or an accountant in an office, chances are that you’ve had the experience of looking up, wondering what time it was, and realizing you’ve just spent the last five hours bent over your keyboard. No wonder your eyes are red and you feel so stiff!
You don’t have to resign yourself to feeling this way as the price of working at a computer. Even if you can’t afford a gym membership and can’t take a vacation just now, there are some small, inexpensive things to do during the day to refresh yourself. They’ll hardly take any time, but maybe you can alleviate those symptoms just a little.
Get That Blood Flowing
First things first: help your cardiovascular system wake up when you do. After getting up, do a few jumping jacks or run on the spot for a couple of minutes, to give the blood flow a head start, either just before or just after you hit the caffeine. And if you’re one of those people with a treadmill serving as a clothes hanger, now’s the time to clean it off. Even with just a ten or fifteen minute walk, you’ll feel more clear-headed. Don’t even run, if that’s too much to ask this early in the day. A short, brisk walk will do the trick and hardly add any time to your morning routine.
At work, set your desktop calendar to send reminders to go for a very short, beneficial walk once an hour. Walk to the other end of the office floor and come back. If you’re working at home, walk into the yard or stroll to the end of your apartment hallway and back. See how little time it takes? At mid-day, add a 20-minute walk outside. That’s just long enough for the daylight to release serotonin in your brain and help you feel refreshed. Not to mention the fact that you’re getting a good dose of Vitamin D, without being outside long enough to worry about harming your skin. Don’t walk to the fast food joint – just walk.
What is That You’re Eating?
And speaking of fast food, there’s a delicious natural way to get quick energy and boost your mental alertness: eat apples for breakfast. That’s right, apples. Several studies have shown that these fruits in particular are good for the brain, and promote memory and learning. So they’re already better for your alertness level than your usual muffin or donut.
But apples have an even more interesting effect on you: if you eat only fruit, first thing in the morning, you’ll get extra energy within minutes. That’s because the sugars in fruit digest very quickly, already being close to the kind of sugar your system converts all food into. So it doesn’t sit in your stomach, waiting for other foods that take longer to digest; it can be processed and its natural energy whooshed into your system very quickly. You’ll be surprised how long you can go, and with what bounce and alertness, if you just grab an apple or another piece of fruit throughout the morning as you feel a hunger pang.
Once you get to lunchtime, of course you’ll want something more substantial. But save both money and your health by bringing an extra couple of carrots or a healthy sandwich, and buying less down at the Food Court. Keep things as light as you can for lunch, so your body’s energy isn’t all diverted to the job of digesting a pile of heavy fast food. Save your heaviest meal for suppertime, when you’ll want your body to slow down anyway.
Stretch Absolutely Everything
When I say everything, I mean everything. Starting with your eyes, and working down.
People who talk about preventing carpal tunnel syndrome suggest that every 20-30 minutes you should bend your hands in the opposite direction from the way you’ve been holding them. This is true for anything in your body that’s held in one position for very long, and when you stare at a computer all day, it’s especially true for your eyes.
If you can find a window, look out at the farthest thing you can see, and focus very hard on it. Or if you’re nowhere near a window, look at a wall and try to focus on the sky or buildings far beyond, even though you can’t actually see them. Do this every few minutes, and your eyes will be much less sore by day’s end.
But don’t ignore the rest of you. Every few minutes, do a couple of quick yoga stretches. You can find plenty of those on the internet by entering “office yoga” into a search engine. Do two or three of these each time you get up to do your short hourly walk, and you should stay limber and feel less strained through the whole day.
Sit Up Straight, Feel Better
The yoga quickies augment the fact that you’ll feel better at the computer if you sit properly. Your arms should be bent at a 90-degree angle so your hands come straight out onto the keyboard, and you should be looking directly ahead of you to see the monitor. Set your chair to sit balanced straight on your hips, feet flat on the floor. Get a box or a couple of phone books to adjust eyes, arms, hips, feet – and monitor – to all the right locations. You’re likely to find, fairly soon, that you’ll feel a lot less stiff from sitting the wrong way and putting pressure in the wrong places.
As you see, none of the above ideas are that complicated, nor do they cost money, and they hardly even take extra time. But adding a few of them into your day can bring little moments of refreshment, and help you be much more alert, and much less stiff, by the end of your day at the computer.