You’ve probably heard the horror stories about gamers who died after marathon gaming sessions. In 2002, a 27 year-old Taiwanese man collapsed after playing computer games for 32 hours non-stop. In 2005, a 28-year-old South Korean man who played computer games for straight 50 hours died of heart failure. The latter gamer stopped his game only to visit the toilet and to take short ‘ubernaps.’
You may not be a gamer, but you might feel as though you’re tied to your computer with an umbilical cord if your computer-related job demands your attention for eight hours or more per day. As a result, you might suffer from erratic sleep patterns, headaches, back pain, and a poor attention span among other ailments. Although detachment from that computer and an expansion of interests might present the simplest ways to avoid or remedy these physical problems, your job may not allow you that luxury. To that end, the following list includes 25 health tips that address these computer-related health issues in the office or in your home. Of course, since this is Free Geekery, most
of our tips are of no charge to you.
1. Listen to your body.
You may know how to program, code, and write a great article, and you may pride yourself on following your boss’s cues to the letter. Despite these accomplishments, you may not listen to your body until it’s too late. For example, if you take a sleeping pill occasionally you might remedy a short-term problem. But if the cause of insomnia is constant stimulation, you’ll need to change your lifestyle to eliminate what may become a chronic issue.
2. Learn your limits.
When you listen to your body, you aren’t exhibiting weak or ’soft’ behavior. Athletes have learned that when you keep tabs on what your body says, you exhibit a willingness to find your true physical limits. Who’s to say that you aren’t a computer athlete and that signs of pain or fatigue aren’t signals that you’ve taken on more than you can handle?
The best way to stay in touch with your body is through exercise. Exercise can improve your sleep patterns, your ability to think clearly, and it will improve your capacity to fight infections along with the ability to ward off cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. If you haven’t exercised in a while, it’s best to start out slowly with stretches and walking and then slowly work your way into more strenuous workouts. You can stretch during short breaks at your desk with this free online example.
4. Take a break.
One way to avoid the physical, emotional, and mental problems that result from computer overload is to take a 10-minute break several times per day. Look at your coffee break as an opportunity to walk up and down several flights of stairs for cardiovascular fitness. Walk up the stairs for the most benefit; walk down if this practice is new for you. But, be careful: more people fall when walking down staircases than when walking up them.
If you work at home, you might forget to take a break let alone take time for lunch. Use an alarm clock or a timer to remind you to take a short break so that you can walk around the block.
5. Make lunch a health event.
The closer to eating that you exercise the bigger the benefit, so take a walk before you eat lunch and you’ll reduce the impact provided by that meal. Also, while your computer is booting up in the morning, you can check the local event listings in your newspaper to see what’s going on that day. If you live or work near a library that hosts a “lunch and learn” program like Colorado Spring’s Tutt Library, take advantage of that offer. Or, visit a free gallery or museum to stretch your mind and body before you eat a healthy lunch. Walk if you can, and avoid taking that car out of the garage.
6. Create work-related workouts.
Arrange a walk-and-talk instead of a sleep-inducing sit-and-talk meeting (otherwise known as pedeconferencing). Park further away from the office and walk. Any movement helps to relieve stress and will help you to sleep in the long run, so avoid sitting when you can stand and walk when you can break away from your desk. Even if you can’t escape that cubicle, you can become the office yoga expert through free online videos.
7. Make the sun your friend.
If you’re cooped up inside all day and subjected to an overdose of indoor lighting, you might suffer from a variety of disorders that could resonate with SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). Body aches and pains, changes in energy level, sleep/wake patterns, and appetite, avoidance of social situations, reduction in the quality of sleep, drop in energy level, weight gain, irritability, inability to complete tasks, decreased creativity, and suicidal thoughts are just a few symptoms for those who are subjected to minimal sunlight. Try to get outdoors for short breaks during the day. If you can’t manage this, consider the purchase of a Light Therapy Box.
If you think that you might be suffering from SAD, take advantage of free treatment that’s available for research volunteers at SAD clinical research centers in the United States, Canada, Europe, Japan, Australia and elsewhere. Recruitment for the winter season often begins in late summer or early fall.
8. Don’t Hack Sleep.
Much has been written about polyphasic sleep, or a sleep pattern intended to reduce sleep time to two-five hours daily. This is achieved by spreading out sleep into short naps of around fifteen to thirty minutes throughout the day and sometimes with a core sleep period of a few hours at night. This sleep pattern was made popular by a blog created in 2000, entitled, Uberman’s Sleep Schedule, a practice that reduces sleep to two-three hours per day.
Many bloggers continue to experiment with various sleep cycles, but anti-polyphasic sleep proponents have voiced their opinions as well. If you want to learn more about this practice, visit Polyphasic Sleep: Facts and Myths. Dr Piotr Wozniak suggests that laboratory experiments consistently indicate that normal adult humans are unable to consistently sustain polyphasic sleep. Worse, their cognitive performance in polyphasic sleep experiments is not better, in fact, “It is dismal.”
9. Learn how to wind down before bedtime.
Reasons behind the inability to sleep includes constant exposure to stimulation, overexposure to caffeine, lack of exercise, and stress or worry. Whether the problem behind insomnia is physical or emotional, lack of sleep can escalate problems such as fatique, anxiety, and a short attention span. Unfortunately, insomnia can increase with aging as well.
The best way to fall asleep at night is to reverse the problems that might cause self-inflicted insomnia and to set a regular time each night when you plan to shut down physically and mentally. Wind down after dinner either through mild exercise like yoga or through meditation. Avoid caffeine and engage in activities like reading a dull, dry book. If that doesn’t help, you might try some remedies like acupuncture, homeopathy, aromatherapy (free recipe) or massage. Check with your physician before you begin any physical therapy, and try to avoid sleeping pills that might become addictive.
10. Address other sleep disorders.
Restless legs syndrome is real. Your legs become uncomfortable when you are lying down or sitting, and moving around relieves the symptoms only temporarily. Often, you might find an underlying disorder, such as diabetes, that causes those legs to feel prickly, itchy, or like they’re on fire. Or, you might discover that your iron levels are low and that you’re suffering from anemia. Check with your doctor to see what’s going on so that you can relieve this problem and get some rest.
Sleep apnea, on the other hand, causes unrest for the affected person and for everyone else as well. Discover your “snore score” and learn about what might be causing this problem. Once again, visit your doctor or an American Sleep Apnea Association (ASAA) A.W.A.K.E. (Alert, Well, And Keeping Energetic) group to learn more. You’ll sleep better and be more refreshed during the day if you can resolve the apnea problem.
11. Avoid caffeine.
Caffeine usually means coffee to most people, but you can find caffeine sources in energy drinks, tea, soft drinks, chocolate, prescription drugs and weight control aids. While many geeks and normal people use caffeine to jumpstart their day, the capacity to overdo this ergogenic is easy to accomplish, especially when no other beverage is available. Caffeine in moderation can reduce the sensation of fatigue, but it doesn’t eliminate the need for sleep. Caffeine overdoses can lead to nervousness, irritability, anxiety, tremulousness, muscle twitching (hyperreflexia), insomnia, headaches, respiratory alkalosis and heart palpitations.
One way to eliminate caffeine from your diet is to read labels to make sure that you aren’t over stimulating yourself with food and drink. Replace caffeinated products with natural energy drinks that don’t contain caffeine. Most of these drinks contain ginseng as the energy booster, however, so be aware that ginseng can aggravate anxiety, insomnia, and irritability as much as caffeine for some people.
12. Drink plenty of water, but not too much.
Water is better for your body than any drink that contains additives. Plus, the more you drink, the more often you need to get up from your computer to use the bathroom. This is a good thing, as water helps to detoxify your body. Plus, almost 2/3 of your body is composed of water, so anything you put in it that dehydrates you (coffee, soft drinks, etc.) is counterproductive. If you have trouble switching from soft drinks to water, try using flavoring packets or lemon juice to spice things up until your taste buds become accustomed to this healthier habit.
Just don’t overdo it with the water as that may cause hyponatremia, or water intoxication – a problem that usually occurs among endurance athletes (like computer geeks, only they may run faster and longer). You’ll experience apathy, confusion, nausea, and fatigue with hyponatremia just as you would with dehydration. If untreated, hyponatremia can lead to seizures, coma or death.
13. Don’t smoke.
One way for a computer geek to quit smoking is to avoid smoking around his or her computer. Outside of the long-term effects of smoking (wrinkles, yellow teeth, cancer), smoking increases the heartbeat and can create feelings of anxiety in teens and young adults. Cigarette smoke also gums up a computer’s inner workings, a problem that can add to a smoker’s financial bottom line. Although quitting can also create feelings of anxiety, plenty of stop-smoking remedies are available today. When the urge hits, even if you wear a patch, chew nicotine gum, or take medication, you can learn to alter your behaviors
by taking a walk, working in a place where no smoking is allowed, or try to take a nap if the urge overwhelms you. If you want more reinforcement, visit sites like WhyQuit.com for free help.
14. Practice Pranayama (deep breathing).
Dr. Andy Weil proposes that smokers seem to substitute smoking for the natural deep breathing exercises that many health-minded people employ to relieve stress. Anyone who feels anxious could benefit from deep breathing, which is the Pranayama aspect of Yoga. Deep, slow, yoga breathing reduces the workload for the heart, assists in weight control, and relaxes the mind and body. You can find detailed instructions on how to practice Pranayama for free online.
15. Change your posture.
Deep breathing can help to improve your posture, but a good chair or other options for other situations (like an affinity for sitting on the floor) can help to correct your posture as well. Practice that posture with free information on how to build a healthy back from the Cleveland Clinic. You can lean on Cornell University’s Ergonomics Web for information on everything from choosing the right chair to the best way to work while sitting on the floor as well. While posture is an important tool to correct everything from headaches to foot pain, Cornell also dissects the effects that poor lighting and air quality have on your computer-related health.
16. Identify ergonomic computer workstation problems.
Cornell offers many tools for you to create an ergonomic work environment, and OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) provides a four-pronged approach that addresses musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) in the workplace. Use this latter resource to identify possible solutions for potential contributing conditions, or use their evaluation checklist to make sure that your computer work environment is physically beneficial.
17. Adjust your laptop environment.
Not surprisingly, laptop ergonomics are different than desktop ergonomics. Learn how to adjust your laptop environment so that you can work in comfort.
18. Avoid eyestrain.
If you experience burning, tightness, sharp pains, dull pains, watering, blurring, double vision, headaches, and other sensations in your eyes, something isn’t right in the vision department. Learn how to recognize and prevent some eyestrain problems. If you haven’t visited an eye doctor in over a year, make an appointment now to make sure that your vision problems are physical rather than caused by your environment.
19. Learn to recognize an emotionally toxic environment.
Pain can go beyond the physical, as a person’s capacity to manage their environment has a direct correlation to his or her overall mental and physical wellness. A toxic workplace can create an equally polluted frame of mind that can affect a person both emotionally and mentally. The result is an elevation of stress hormones, and each person will react differently to those increased levels. One way to remedy this problem is to learn how to recognize a toxic workplace, and to also recognize the behaviors and responses to unhealthy situations. Once again, exercise can help you to rid yourself from those feelings of anger and helplessness and to regain focus and balance, but conflict resolution can help to relieve stress as well.
20. Learn to recognize a physically toxic environment.
You might love mushrooms, but some fungal molds can cause anything from mild allergies to toxicity. Whether you work at home or in an office, you can test for mold with kits that cost little more than postage and handling. If you don’t want to go that route, you can have your home or office tested by an AIHA (Accredited Industrial Hygiene Association) professional.
21. Avoid multitasking.
Some say that the willingness to multitask is a response to the “fight or flight” syndrome, where the multitasker uses simultaneous tasks to avoid confronting emotional issues. On the other hand, multitasking has been born out of the ability to accomplish several tasks at one time through technology. But, it was proven six years ago that multitasking can be counterproductive and that it can also cause health problems including anxiety and depression. In fact, a one-second delay
in some instances can prove fatal if you combine driving with other tasks.
Although it may seem impossible at first, you can learn how to carve out some time for yourself to learn how to single-task. Yoga, meditation, deep breathing, and silence can help you to lean how to focus on one task at a time, a skill that you can carry to the workplace. Another tool that works for me is to set a time frame for each task and set a timer for when that task was to be completed. If I don’t finish, I drop that task and come back to it later. This practice allows me to enjoy the variety I crave, which helps me to avoid boredom. As a result, I’ve discovered that I can accomplish more in less time. Plus, my heartburn seems to have disappeared.
22. Don’t play doctor.
As a computer fiend, you probably know that you can find information about various illnesses online. For instance, you can avoid diabetic problems by following online advice provided by professionals once you’ve already been diagnosed. You can learn about heart attack symptoms as well, but don’t consider yourself a medical professional when it comes to serious physical problems. The symptoms provided by this list are also the same symptoms that can occur with serious heartburn. Don’t play doctor when it comes to your health. If you’re feeling seriously ill, don’t delay in seeking professional help.
23. Submit your body to physical exams.
Whether you choose to maintain an annual schedule for that physical checkup is up to you, but when you feel off-kilter and can’t pinpoint the problem then it might behoove you to make an appointment for some physical exams. Additionally, there are certain guidelines and checklists available to help you keep track of when you need to make appointments for cancer related or diabetic checkups.
If it chafes you to whip out your credit card and pay exorbitant fees for these exams, try a visit to your local annual county fair. Many county fairs hold free screenings for such things as prostate exams and skin cancer and diabetes checkups. Some colleges, organizations, businesses, and communities offer health fairs or opportunities for partial checkups. Check your local newspaper or call around to discover if you can take advantage of upcoming opportunities.
24. Reward yourself.
Sometimes the only person who will thank you for a job well done is you. Some call it “hyacinths for the soul,” or the ability to pamper yourself after meeting a stressful deadline or a difficult goal. Only you know what turns you on in that arena…perhaps eating a pizza while soaking in a bubble bath does it, or you may have to take yourself completely out of your environment with a trip to the Caribbean. Take time to make a list of things that you enjoy so that when you need to call upon your pleasures you have all the tools at hand. There’s nothing worse than no money in the kitty for a pizza or bubble bath let alone an airplane ticket when you need it most!
25. When all else fails, keep a journal.
Unlike the drug addict who is classified as suffering from “hard addiction,” the person who develops an unhealthy compulsive lifestyle is said to be suffering from a “soft addiction” because the results aren’t immediately felt by the abuser. If you cannot tear yourself away from your computer without some anxiety, guilt, or sadness, if you can’t seem to change your habits despite sincere resolutions, or if someone else has pointed out that your behavior is unusual or harmful, then you might have a serious problem.
If you recognize that your habits are detrimental to your mental and physical health, you can begin to change your habits one at a time to avoid being overwhelmed by a huge lifestyle alteration. Some of the symptoms to soft addictions include an inability to remember what you did as time seems to fly by. But, soft addictions come with identifiable costs of time, money, energy, and intimacy. If you spend too much time at a computer, you can track that time with a journal. You can also use that journal to mark your progress, and then you can reward yourself for all your positive changes.
While many of your computer-related problems might be the result of actual physical issues, a majority of issues seem to be connected to how a person uses a computer. It usually takes about thirty days to change a habit, which is why so many drug and alcohol treatment centers offer programs that last for twenty-eight to thirty days. So don’t set your sites too high and expect to alter your behaviors by tomorrow morning. Set reasonable goals and within six months you could change up to six habits that are hurting rather than helping you.
If you feel that you haven’t made progress with lifestyle changes, you have an solution for your IAD (Internet Addiction Disorder) through new treatment centers for computer-related behavioral issues. All you need to do is conduct a search for a “computer addict treatment” to find results. Be warned: if you don’t call, a concerned family member may take that step and you might become part of the new wave of offline interventions for individuals with online computer disorders.