By Dr. Rand
April 1, 2020
On the surface, there are a lot of benefits with working from home. The commute is getting out of bed, you have access to your own coffee and food, and you don’t have to sit in on a million meetings a day. What could possibly go wrong?
Working from home actually comes with unforeseen health problems. With the help of other experts, we discussed these obstacles in an interview with Eat This, Not That.
Hong Yin, MD, a psychiatrist and clinical director with New Frontiers Psychiatric & TMS, warns about the possibility of stress when working from home. “Many people who work from home find it helpful to set strict times they will dedicate to work as if they are physically in the office and when they ‘clock out,'” explains Yin. “This will allow us time to recharge and take respite, which is necessary. Otherwise, it can be tempting to continue to work outside your usual hours, which can lead to stress and burnout.”
2. Unnecessary Stress Eating
“People working from home can suffer from stress as a result of factors such as financial concerns, having to remote school their children and working near their spouse,” tells Robert Herbst, a personal trainer. “This stress can cause them to crave calorie-dense food such as junk and carbs. They can also be less active than normal, losing the exercise that was baked into their normal workday.”
How do you combat stress eating? Try a diet of good fats, carbohydrates, and protein as well as a walk at the end of the day.
3. Loss of Hearing
“If headphones or earbuds are being used, it is necessary to make sure the volume is at a safe level. Loud sounds directed to the eardrum can lead to noise-induced hearing loss,” explains Dr. Eric Branda, AuD, Ph.D., an audiologist with Signia Hearing. “If someone near you can hear your webinar, music or virtual colleague’s conversation while you are wearing headphones, you likely have your volume up too loud.”
4. Background Noise
Avoid having to turn up the volume on your call by reducing distracting background noises. “Reducing or removing the competing background noise will help with clarity of the speech signal and let you focus on what you hear rather than effortful listening,” says Branda.
“My clients find they work more when working from home—there’s no getting ready, commute, coffee breaks, small talk, and it’s easy to skip lunch and to answer emails in the evening,” says Catherine Petit Wu, a certified transformational health coach in New York City. “It can lead to mental fatigue and being emotionally overwhelmed.” How can you combat this at home? “Change from your PJs to regular clothes, apply make-up as usual, have as many video calls as you can rather than just phone calls, take breaks every 60 or 90 minutes, and a lunch break away from your desk. Set up a ritual to close shop at the end of the day. Close your computer, put it away if it’s on the dining table and change outfits."
6. Weight Gain
“It’s important to make sure you’re making healthy dietary choices to prevent unwanted weight gain,” says Claudia Hleap, a registered dietitian. “Set nutrition and health-related goals to commit to while you’re stuck at home.” You can switch to whole grains, eat a vegetable with dinner every night, or try to incorporate fruit as a snack everyday.
You may find yourself having feelings of depression, sadness, or loneliness due to the lack of socialization. Social isolation is tricky for social creatures like human beings. “While COVID-19 is among us, that might exclude you from in-person socialization, but be certain to engage with your colleagues and friends through various tools while you’re working at home, like Zoom, Slack, text and FaceTime,” says Hong Yin. “Make a point to reach out and engage with those you normally would to keep everyone’s spirits high and healthy.”
8. Back Strain
“One of the most important parts of setting up a home office is setting up proper ergonomics,” says Rand McClain, DO, chief medical officer of LCR Health in Santa Monica, California. “Being positioned in an imbalanced or asymmetric position that can lead to overly used and tight muscles of the neck, shoulders and arms and pain.” “Arms should be placed at one’s side and elbows at roughly 90 degrees ideally when setting up the chair level with table/computer level,” says McClain. “One should be able to sit up relatively straight in this way with legs roughly parallel to the floor and feet under the chair with ankles crossed —the ideal typing position.”
Other advice? Try standing up and moving around once an hour to avoid stiffness, and to drink plenty of water during the day to keep muscles hydrated.
9. Text Neck
Did you know tilting your head changes the effective weight of your head? Just by tilting your head at a 60-degree angle to text, you effective head weight goes from 12lbs to 60lbs. This type of strain on your neck has been labeled “text neck”. To prevent this, hold your phone at eye level.
10. Relationship Problems
With everyone in your house staying home, the daily routines have changed drastically. The close quarters 24/7 can lead to more conflict. Plan a small section of your day to discuss any tensions that have come up during the day. Facing these conflicts head on can help alleviate the stress quickly.
11. News Overload
Being home means more access to your tv and social media accounts, which translates into an influx of news. It’s hard to find the balance between being informed and drowning in negative information.
Lisa Koche, MD, the founder and director of Spectra Wellness Solutions, has some suggestions. “Set a timer for mid-morning and mid-afternoon and go outside. For 15 minutes, listen to a guided meditation on YouTube and just clear your head. Your productivity will skyrocket, and you will feel so much better.”
12. Muscle Aches
At home, there are so many more options of places to sit. It is tempting to work from the dining room, your bed, or a couch. These seats do not support your body like an office chair would, therefore leading to muscle aches. “As you work, be aware of your body’s positioning. Remind yourself to sit with a straight back, and also make sure to get up at least once an hour to stretch and take a short walk,” advices health and wellness expert Linda Morgan.
As you transition to working from home, you may find you are having trouble falling asleep. Your body is used to staring at screens all day, making it harder to transition to sleep time. Try staying away from screens two hours before bed to help relax your mind.
14. Binge Eating
When your “desk” is near your refrigerator, it can be hard to resist the temptation of eating excessively.
“To avoid this problem, make a meal plan and stick to it,” Jamie Bacharach, head of Acupuncture Jerusalem, shares. “Avoid snacking throughout the day and diet exactly as you would if you were at the office, with the same breakfast and lunch plan you would normally adhere to. It’s easier said than done, but it is critical to avoid weight gain.”
15. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
The increased use of computers and phones during the work day can possibly lead to wrist and hand strain and sometimes even carpal tunnel syndrome. “To avoid wrist and hand pain and associated problems, be sure to use an ergonomic mouse and to take plenty of breaks to rest and flex your wrist and hands throughout the day,” Bacharach suggests.
16. Neck and Shoulder Strain
Like mentioned before, the new work arrangements can lead to awkward sitting positions, which in turn can lead to neck and shoulder strain. How can this be avoided? Dr. Nicole Lombardo, PT, DPT, CDCS, a physical therapist, recommends raising your screen to eye level, keeping your keyboard at elbow height, relaxing your shoulders, and raising your seat higher if necessary.
17. Eye Strain
“Eye strain is real,” says Koche. “We are meant to have daily exposure to a broad range of light and color frequencies. When we are inside and on devices the light spectrum is in the blue range and the lighting is often fluorescent.”
Wearing blue light glasses, getting outside every couple of hours, and exposing yourself to warm tones in the morning can help alleviate this strain.
18. Mindless Eating
With the kitchen being so close, it’s easy to wander the pantry. You may think you’re feeling hungry, but it’s more likely boredom or dehydration. “When you find yourself wandering into the pantry, get a full liter of water with lemon and hydrate—most ‘hunger’ is actually boredom or dehydration,” Koche recommends.
Without the face to face communication you’re used to in the office, you may find yourself worrying about job performance or security. Organize a time with your supervisor and coworkers each day or week to discuss progress or concerns. Talk over the phone or through video conferencing.
The Fear Of Missing Out sounds silly but can have a real impact on your mental state. Investing too much time in other people’s lives can lead to low self-esteem and depression. Limit your social media scrolling to 30 minutes after work.