Thursday, March 24, 2016

Healthy Writing Habits

Sandy Tritt

I finish my day at 6 p.m. My eyes are dry and tired. My shoulders ache. My wrists are sore. My legs ache. In fact, it seems like every bone and every tissue in my body is screaming. Sitting for eight-to-ten hours while moving nothing other than my fingers is hard on my body—much harder than most people realize. Writing—and editing—is not for sissies. However, it doesn’t have to be this hard on us. How can we make it easier? Here’s a rundown by body part.

EYES. I have special computer glasses that have large lenses and plastic frames. They aren’t pretty and they aren’t stylish, but they sure are practical. My optometrist has formulated them to be perfect for my vision for the exact distance between my eyes and my laptop screen—a formula that is slightly different than the “reading” view of my bifocals—and I don’t have to tilt my neck to see through that tiny square.

My optometrist also advised that I must—not that I should, but that I must—look off into the distance at least every 30 minutes, for at least 15 seconds. Fortunately, I sit near French doors with a view of trees, so I can look at those trees. It doesn’t matter what we see, but we need to focus on something at a distance to give our eyes a little rest.

Finally, I keep a damp washcloth in a sandwich baggie next to me. Once or twice a day, I toss a small ice cube in as well. Every hour or so—especially in the afternoons when my eyes feel stressed—I take a five minute break and put the damp washcloth over my eyes. I avoid eye drops because they tend to make my eyes drier soon after using. But the cold, wet washcloth hydrates my eyes and reduces swelling. It’s my mini-vacation and helps me to keep on chugging along.

WRISTS. Anyone who sits at a keyboard all day knows how hard typing is on our wrists. Many suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome. After much experimentation, I found a lap desk that is the exact right height for my laptop, allowing my wrists to rest at a level equal to my elbows. There are many exercises and suggestions on the web for coping with carpal tunnel. I find that when my wrist first begins to ache, I wear a wrist brace to bed. Sometimes, I even wear a less-restricting one while working. And, of course, I make sure my wrists are supported and not just dangling in mid-air. It’s much easier to heal from slight stress than it is full-blown carpal tunnel, so listen to your body, research the web, and nip this condition before it starts.

SHOULDERS/BACK. My shoulders and sometimes my back often feel the stress of my chair-potato career. Every morning, I stretch before beginning work. Additionally, I stretch every hour (yes, all those health professionals recommend it’s critically important to get up and move around at least once an hour). The stretches that work for me may not work for you, but if you search the web for “stretches for back and shoulders” you’ll find quite a few to choose from. And, yes, DO get up every hour and walk around a bit.

I’m fortunate that my neighbor is a splendid massage therapist (Thanks, Shelly!), so I also visit her whenever my aches don’t disappear after a good night’s sleep. A good massage can rub away those aches and make us feel (almost) brand new again. Finally, I sometimes use a rice-bag shoulder pillow, which wraps around my neck and provides a bit of weight that feels blissful—especially if I toss the thing in the microwave for a minute beforehand.

LEGS. Sitting for hours with our legs dangling or square in front of us can cause stress both on our legs and lower backs. Try changing your posture frequently, and sometimes use a footstool (or box) on which to rest your legs. Also switch out the chair you work in, perhaps going from the standard office chair to an ergonomic variety—and back again. It is the variety of positions that is important. Most of the time, I work from a La-Z-Boy, which keeps my legs up and elevated—and provides the perfect resting place for my special kitty. One of our editors suggests sitting on an exercise ball for an hour or two a day. It will stretch and challenge various muscles while allowing you to get some work done. Regardless of where you sit, be sure to get up and move—and stretch—at least once an hour.

Writing and editing—or any other job that requires super-gluing your butt to a chair and not moving for hours at a time—can be harder on your body than earning your keep by muscle power. However, if you force yourself to take frequent breaks (set an alarm, if you need to, as sometimes we get so involved in our work we forget about time), change your posture often, and find the equipment that works best for you, you can end your workday with enough energy to enjoy the evening hours.

Good luck—and keep writing!

UPDATE: I sent this blog out to our editors—as I do with everything before it’s published—and they responded with so many tips on how to sneak in a bit of exercise while working at a desk that we decided to do a second blog on, well, sneaking in exercise while you work. Look for it to appear in the near future.

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