You’re a freelancer! You set your own schedule! People want to be you! You look super hip with your coffee, and your cool computer! And your back pain from all the sitting! And the eye strain! You know, from all the computering! Wait… no.
Freelancing, in all its money-making, freedom-granting glory can actually take a huge toll on our bodies. With no forced lunch breaks and no one asking you to get up and fix the copier, working for yourself (especially working from home) can make it easy to live a sedentary life. And, I hate to tell you guys, a sedentary life can mean a significantly shorter and less enjoyable life.
With some habit-changing, a little bit of willpower, and some exercises to do at your desk, you can make your workday productive and healthy.
Stay hydrated. Seriously, I’m not kidding here.
We freelancers are known for our caffeine consumption. Pressing deadlines often equal late nights that are followed by even later nights, and a little bit of perky assistance is needed. This is fine (as long as you’re getting enough sleep when you don’t have pressing deadlines), but it’s important to keep your water/caffeinated beverage ratio even.
According to researchers at the University of Connecticut, “Even mild dehydration can alter a person’s mood, energy level, and ability to think clearly.” Symptoms like “fatigue,” “difficulty concentrating,” and “difficulty with mental tasks,” when added to a freelancer’s world, equals lost time and lost money, right?
So, drink up. Match each cup of coffee or bottle of soda with a glass of water, or buy yourself a fancy water bottle and give yourself a “bottle goal” to reach each day. Both your clients and your internal organs will thank you.
Don’t forget about your eyeballs.
We stare at screens a lot these days. Now, don’t worry, I’m not going to start rambling on about the good old days when “people used to look at each other and not at technology” or how I used to “walk 400 hundred miles uphill both ways on a volcano” to get to school… but I am going to tell you to give your eyeballs a break.
Many eye doctors and vision-related organizations promote the 20-20-20 rule. This simply means that, every 20 minutes you take a 20 second break and look at something that is 20 feet away from you. I would add that you take it 20 steps further by actually walking 20 feet away from your computer. This will get your blood flowing and give your eyes a break.
Avoid the Tunnel
Another huge risk for people who work at a computer for long periods of time is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. This is a condition that affects an important nerve in the wrist, and can result in wrist pain, tingling in the fingers, and other uncomfortable symptoms. There are certain exercises to do at your desk, however, to prevent Carpal Tunnel and alleviate symptoms if you’re already experiencing them.
- Wrist Flexor Stretch: Hold your hand out in front of you, palm up. Then use your other hand to gently press it down toward the floor. You should feel a moderate stretch (not a stretch that makes you cry). Hold this for 15 to 30 seconds, release, and repeat with the other hand. You can do this 2 to 4 times, or throughout your work session.
- Shake it Out: This one’s not too hard. Simply shake your hands out as though you were trying to air-dry them after washing your hands. This keeps your nerves from being pinched and cramped. It’s recommended to do this for a few minutes, every hour. If you’re already working on a dance routine that involves enthusiastic jazz hands, you’re gold.
- The Itsy Bitsy Wrist Protector: Have you ever seen somebody do the “spiders doing pushups on a mirror” move with their hands? You put your hands together, in “prayer” (or “self high five,” if you’re feeling proud of yourself) position, spread your fingers apart, and push your palms away from each other. Do this for a couple of minutes.
Get Your Blood Pumping
Sitting for too long is bad for your body and your brain. It can mess up your back and your motivation. Luckily, I got some awesome, expert advice from Michelle Roots, CEO of Core Conditioning, on how to keep that freelance blood flowing and some awesome exercises to do at your desk:
Michelle on relieving back pain:
“It is very common that people who sit at a desk all day suffer from posture related neck and upper back pain. A great stretch to help relieve upper back pain while sitting at your desk is something I call the “reach and squeeze”.
Begin by sitting upright in a chair with your shoulders directly on top of your hips, then reach both of your arms up over your head and hold for about 10 to 20 seconds. Return your arms to your sides and then perform the second part of this stretch known as the “squeeze”. Apply pressure by pushing your elbows behind your body to bring your shoulder blades as close together as possible. Hold this for five seconds and release, then return to the “reach” part of the stretch and continue to alternate between the two for about 10-15 reps 2-3 times throughout the day.”
… and lower back pain:
“Lower back pain due to sitting is often caused by shortening of the muscles in the back of the leg. A good stretch to perform while sitting in your chair will stretch both the muscles of the lower back and the muscles in the back of the leg. Start by sitting upright in your chair, keeping your spine straight and head right above your shoulders. Sit near the edge of the chair, place your feet approximately hip-width apart, and extend your legs out in front of you. Reaching your arms out towards your legs, slowly lean forward until you feel a slight stretch in both the back of your legs and lower back. Hold this stretch for about 20 to 30 seconds and repeat 2-3 times.”
She’s also got advice that will get that blood pumping:
“Some ideas to get the blood pumping during a five minute work break are to take a walk around the house or head to the stairs and walk up and down a few times. If you are not able to get away from your desk for your break, try doing 2 sets of 10 bodyweight squats or jog/march on the spot for a few minutes.”
Freelancing doesn’t mean “free from taking care of yourself.” You can stay healthy and make money, right?
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