Are you comfortable working from home

March 1, 2021| Past Issues, Articles, Editorial

Written by Paul Nicholls

The coronavirus pandemic has impacted our lives in many ways but one of the most pronounced personal changes is the amount of time, during lockdowns, that we are spending at home. What are the longer term physical and mental impacts on us of working from home?

Stoughton Pages has spoken to local experts to get their views on what these impacts are and how we can best mitigate the negatives and take advantage of the positives. We asked The Eaves – Counselling & Psychology about the mental impact, GW Osteopathy about the physical impact and Healthy Home & Office about how to best manage these physical issues with a suitable office set up.

Obviously, there are positives in that we are spending more ‘quality’ time with our families (although this can have its own frustrations, especially as parents can find home-schooling a challenge) and many people seem to be making the effort to get outdoors for exercise. Another aspect of this situation is the amount of people who are currently working from home. Perhaps these lockdowns have demonstrated, to employees and employers alike, how much effective work can actually be done whilst working remotely. In some cases it’s probably nearly impossible to work from home whereas others will find it a much more productive situation. So, although we now have a ‘roadmap’ out of this cycle of lockdowns, there is still some time to go before everyone can return to their normal mode of working. However, some businesses and individuals might have come to the conclusion that working from home, remotely, is the way forward for the future.

With this in mind we’ve been thinking about the mental and physical impact of working from home. Not everyone has a good home-office set up, which can lead to various levels of discomfort, and perhaps many of us are missing the interaction with work colleagues in a busier environment.

We asked The Eaves (Counselling & Psychology) on their perspective and observations of the mental impact of working from home.

The virus has affected numerous aspects of our wellbeing – financially, emotionally, socially and not least, mentally, so it’s been difficult to feel anything but pessimism towards the pandemic. Working from home has presented its own unique challenges that many of us have little, or no, experience with.

However, there are benefits that come with working from home. These include increased productivity, fewer office distractions and less commuting (which research has shown the average adult spends around an hour a day doing, and is often linked to high levels of stress and anxiety).

Additionally, the flexibility that comes with working from home creates an opportunity for a healthier work-life balance. To make the most out of
the benefits of home working during the pandemic:

  • Build self-care into part of your daily routine. Sometimes just taking 5 minutes can really help
  • Share your workload if you live with others
  • Speak to your employer about work flexibility if you haven’t already done so
  • Establish a routine that allows a positive structure for both yourself and if you have children
  • Make time for the things you enjoy. It’s easy to lose sight of positives when things feel overwhelming but focusing on a favourite hobby can provide you with a break
  • Keep your mind active with activities such as reading, puzzles, drawing or painting when you’re able. This can help you to feel more in control
  • Look after your physical wellbeing – sleep, exercise and nutrition
  • Helping and supporting others increases emotional wellbeing

Working from home has presented its own unique challenges that many of us have little, or no, experience with.
The Eaves – Counselling & Psychology

Remember that we all react differently to situations and it’s absolutely normal if you’re feeling an array of emotion right now. Finding coping strategies that work for you can help bring relief if you’re finding things difficult right now. Don’t hesitate in seeking further advice and support from loved ones or a professional organisation such as The Eaves in Guildford if you are struggling with your mental health.

The average time we were all spending sitting nationally increased from 9 hours a day to 11 during the first lockdown.
GW Osteopathy

If nothing else it can be comforting or reassuring to know that many people are experiencing the same issues as yourself and that help is out there if you need it. For others it can be less of a mental challenge and more of a physical one. We asked Gemma Ware at GW Osteopathy how working from home and the increased amounts of time spent sitting can have negative effects on our bodies.

Different sitting postures can affect our breathing, altering the length of the diaphragm thus reducing the amount of space available for it to function freely and as such, influencing its ability to generate tension and reducing lung capacity. In fact, a study from 2016 found that diaphragm breathing is significantly reduced by our position when seated. This is particularly pertinent with so many of us currently working from home during the lockdowns, as the average time we were all spending sitting nationally increased from 9 hours a day to 11 during the first lockdown. Long periods of sitting can lead to a
series of negative effects on our bodies such as poor circulation, impaired digestion, an increased risk of conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) not to mention an increase in musculoskeletal discomfort, pain and postural fatigue.

Breathing is something we all do on a pretty regular basis. We don’t really have a choice whether we do or not, it is hard wired into our brains to keep us breathing so we can keep oxygen moving around, feeding our brains and bodies by the process of respiration. However, because we all spend so much time breathing as an afterthought, it is remarkable how many of us end up breathing without using the diaphragm to its fullest potential.

So, what is the diaphragm? Well, your diaphragm is a large sheet of muscle that domes up underneath your ribs, attaching your front to your back and separating your chest from your abdomen. When you breathe in, your diaphragm contracts downwards and flattens, making more space in your chest so you pull air in. When you breathe out, the diaphragm relaxes and rises, making less space in your chest and pushing air out. At least, that’s what it’s meant to do. It’s important to be aware of your breathing in order to optimise it’s function, as proper diaphragmatic breathing can have a range of benefits such as; increasing attention and focus, slowing your resting breathing rate, promoting relaxation, and improving core muscle stability. A number of key organs sit next to or near the diaphragm, i.e. the heart, lungs, the liver, the stomach, the spleen and the digestive tract. Three large and very important vessels pass through it, they are the aorta, vena cava and oesophagus. So yet again it is vital that the diaphragm functions to the best of it’s ability to keep our bodies healthy

So, at GW Osteopathy, we want to get your diaphragm moving and keep you breathing your best as we continue to work from home, so here are a few exercises we recommend for making proper diaphragmatic breathing a part of your everyday life. In addition to regular cardiovascular exercise such as walking, jogging, cycling or swimming you could try t
he following breathing exercises;

Diaphragmatic Deep Breathing

The first thing to work on is the full movement of the diaphragm itself. To do this, slow, mindful breathing allows us to exercise this muscle.

  1. Place one hand on your abdomen and one on your chest
  2. Over a count of 4 seconds, take a deep breath all the way in, pushing your stomach OUT as you do.
  3. Hold that breath for 2 seconds
  4. Again, over a count of 4 seconds, exhale all the way out, drawing the stomach IN this time.
  5. Repeat this 3 times

Reinforced Exhalation

While we’re working on the diaphragm, it’s just as important to work on its antagonist. (An antagonist to a muscle is the term we give to the muscle that does the opposite job, for instance, where your biceps flex your elbow joint, your triceps extend it.) For the diaphragm, that antagonist is the transverse abdominis, two long muscles that sit either side of your abdominals and squeeze the abdominal cavity to push the air we take in out.

  1. Place both hands on your abdomen
  2. Exhale all the way out
  3. When you feel like you’ve exhaled everything, hiss for 4 seconds
  4. Release and breath in again
  5. Repeat this 3 times

Diaphragm Thrusts

This one comes straight from our laryngeal specialist osteopath, it’s an exercise to get the diaphragm moving and work out these breathing muscles so they are stronger for everyday use.

  1. Standing comfortably upright with your feet shoulder width apart and both hands on your abdomen.
  2. Say the following, pushing in with your diaphragm for each letter;
    R – P – T – K
    R – P – T – K
    SH – SH – SH – SH
    SS – SS – SS – SS
    CH – CH – CH – CH
    FT – FT – FT – FT
  3. Repeat this three times

Meditation and Mindfulness are two great ways to become more aware of your breathing. Both of these methods will allow you to relax/slow your breathing, forget about your stressors in life and focus on letting go. This can help to reduce stress and anxiety along with empowering us to feel more positive.

GW Osteopathy refers to how different sitting postures can affect our breathing. We thought we’d find out a little more about how getting your office environment right can make a big difference. We spoke to local specialists Healthy Home & Office.

Not many people have a home-office environment that is designed for working for eight hours a day, five days a week.
Healthy Home & Office

Since lockdown began in March millions of office workers found themselves working from home. Not many people have a home-office environment that is designed for working for eight hours a day, five days a week. Dining tables, breakfast bars, beds and even ironing boards have become replacement desks and chairs.

Phil Johns of Guildford-based Healthy Home & Office says “We have seen a large increase in customers coming to us with aches and pains, having either bought a ‘quick fix’ item or trying to make do with what they have.” Phil explained that internet searches for ‘Ergonomic Furniture’ can be very misleading whereby the product has very little or no real ergonomic functionality. “Back, neck and shoulder aches along with headaches have resulted in them seeking advice from us” he adds. “The importance of the correct furniture and an understanding of the overall workstation set-up can greatly reduce the risks of aches and pains and in the long run will enable you to work more comfortably”.

Typical examples that Phil gave included a customer who was 6’3” choosing a desk with a deep drawer going the full length of the top, so he needed to get his legs under the drawer (59cm) which is the recommended height for a school table for 6-7yr old children, another customer had a desk with a drawer and a chair with fixed arms so when she pulled herself into the desk the arms hit the drawer which resulted in her having to perch on the front edge of the chair resulting in no back support and after a few weeks the resulting pain just got too bad and she has had to review her complete set up.

We are also seeing many people using 4 legged dining chairs – you would not use a four legged chair in your office so why are we using them at home.

Phil concludes “Our biggest piece of advice is to find a showroom that has a range of products and a specialist who can advise on the right equipment for you. It may be as simple as changing the height of your monitor or needing an upright ergonomic mouse”.

Our biggest piece of advice is to find a showroom that has a range of products and a specialist who can advise on the right equipment for you.
Healthy Home & Office

Unsuitable Home Office furniture: The most common mistakes:

  1. Choosing a generic chair without having it matching your needs. Tailor making the chair to fit you and the tasks you carry out are key. Working on a four-legged chair puts enormous strain on your back when you get up and sit down. Choose a chair with high levels of adjustability which ensures that you can set the chair up to your specific requirements. Remember one size does not fit all.
  2. Desks with fixed drawers running the length of the desktop or drawer/pedestal units to the sides can limit your leg room resulting in more static sedentary sitting, which is proven to cause various postural problems. Avoid desks that provide limited space for your legs, Check the height to the underside of the desk, ideally you want your knees slightly lower than your hips to create a more open angle at the hips to reduce pressure on the lower back.
  3. Desk height and depth also need to be considered. If your desk surface is too high then you will be lifting your arms/shoulders to work which results in added stress on your upper arms, upper back and neck (Current guideline for desk height is 74cm +/- 2cm). If your desk is too shallow or deep this may result in screen/monitors being closer than needed, which may result in eye strain and headaches. If the screen/monitors are too far away you will lean forward causing you to change your posture which will add stress to lower back, upper back and neck.
  4. Buying an item of furniture without consultation. The saying “Try before you buy” holds very true for home office furniture and accessories which will make your working life more comfortable and productive.

Healthy Home & Office can help with free expert advice either in their Covid-Secure showroom or remotely over the phone or email.

So, perhaps you’re thinking that working from home now doesn’t sound such a simple way forward but it doesn’t need to be complicated, you just need to take care of yourself, mentally & physically. Get properly comfortable, establish a routine, take some time out for yourself, don’t ignore the little aches and pains and, if needs be, make a phone call and talk to someone who can help.

Thank you to the experts who helped us with the writing of this article:

The Eaves
– Counselling & Psychology
Telephone: 01483 917000

GW Osteopathy
Telephone: 01483 400207

Healthy Home & Office
Telephone: 01483 600085