This is a guest article from Alex Toll
Freelance writing, as an occupation, has its own dangers for health, as does any other occupation. In terms of health problems, they are equivalent to those of most office jobs and ultimately relate to work life balance. Let’s talk about some of these.
You know, when I started researching for this article, I realised that there is enough material out there to fill a book on the topic! However, I’ll try to focus in on the most important issues, and add some links to expand the resources you can investigate further.
Sounds…ordinary. But, for people who spend more than 5-6 hours a day in a chair, this is a really important issue. The medical bon mot of the moment is that “sitting is the new smoking”, and a number of studies have confirmed this disheartening assertion. One solution is to raise the computer keyboard to stomach height at least, and stand for part of your work time. An empty box for xerographic paper does the trick as a laptop or computer keyboard stand for many desks, and costs nothing to try.
If you must sit, and most of us must in freelance writing, for at least a portion of the day, you need to be able to sit correctly. Always try to keep the position of the back of the chair as high as possible. This helps to keep the spine and hips in a more anatomically normal position and reduces strain on the back. This can help prevent scoliosis and kyphosis; just googling on these terms and getting a look at the images, even if you learn no more about them, will motivate you to commit to back health! Scoliosis can be quite serious, as it can reduce the amount of room available for your internal organs in serious cases.
What can you do to fight spine problems like scoliosis, disk herniation, and just plain sore muscles? You can work out. If you have strong abdominal muscles; what fitness and dance folks call your “core”, they literally support your back in a more correct position and help you to maintain proper posture at all times. At the ResearchWritingCenter.com, where we have a whole office full of freelance writers, we allow them to work out during lunch break if they wish. This helps them to get in shape and stay fit and be healthier.
Another important challenge is work at a computer. The problems start with dehydration and continue on to possible problems with your vision and other health issues. It is impossible to be a freelance writer today without working on the computer, so these health concerns need to be considered.
How do you fight the possible negative effects of spending a lot of time at a computer? First – drink a lot of fluids. Healthy liquids keep you hydrated and allows your body to function normally (avoid caffeine, alcohol, sugar, artificial sweeteners, and phosphorous-heavy carbonated beverages). We suggest it to be more than just water: there are many beneficial drinks available. Milk, if you are among those who can digest it, is very nutritious.
To keep your eyes healthy (this suggestion actually comes from one of our staffers, who is doing yoga and is all about a healthy lifestyle) try taking breaks every couple of hours, close your eyelids and just try moving your eyes up, down, and sideways, for couple of minutes. Aldous Huxley’s book, The Art of Seeing (Flamingo Modern Classics)The Art of Seeing, is filled with exercises to make your eyes feel better, at least temporarily.
It is also helpful to maintain a safe distance between your eyes and the computer screen.
“We are what we eat”; a sound piece of philosophy. While working in an office you may be tempted to save time for collegial chit chat by opting for fast food. You are making a big mistake. I know that many people today are refusing to eat in fast food restaurants, but the sad reality is that even more people are still flocking to them. If you can bring your lunch from home, even if it is last night’s leftovers, or a sandwich on whole grain bread, you are likely to get better nutrition than most restaurants can offer. You will also skip some of the salt, fats, and added sugars that usually characterize the neighborhood fast food establishments. Of course, if you are simply substituting a pre-cooked frozen meal, you may not be ahead by all that much! Don’t forget to include fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, if you possibly can.
Don’t forget that air conditioning is not always good for you. Breathing some fresh air during your lunch break is a very sound practice. If you have a park nearby, all the better! Try to take your constitutional there. Oxygen keeps you in a good mood, provides energy, and you know, is generally necessary for the continuation of life.
Stress is a psycho-physical condition that has negative health impacts if it is continued over long periods of time. This can happen if you are constantly in stressful situations. I guess that meeting deadlines and dealing with difficult customers, or not enough of them, would constitute stressors for most freelance writers working in an office.
Fighting stress can be combated with many tactics, but these are usually quite personal. Some people like to unwind and de-stress by watching their favorite TV shows; some read books for pleasure. There are other practices and items that promise relaxation: massage, yoga, acupressure, aroma-therapy using lamps, teas, scented candles and pillows, and other simple elements of exotica. Try to spoil yourself a little bit from time to time with such accessible treats, because life is short. Relaxing and clearing the mind and body of the effects of stress are some of the most important things people today need to learn.
I hope some of these ideas are useful for you. If you are already using some of these methods to stay healthy – feel free to share in the comments. If you have anything to add – you are welcome to share your ideas! I’m sure other writers will find them interesting to read.