When your work involves long periods sat in front of a computer, sooner or later something will go wrong and your health will suffer if you don’t take steps early on to prevent the damage.
When your job or business involves providing IT services to companies and/or individuals, you get the added problems associated with dealing with impatient or angry customers who of course are always right, even when they are very wrong, and who don’t care that they woke you up in the middle of the night because they couldn’t find the ON switch on their printer when they had a really urgent need to print out some ASCII art they found on the interwebs.
There’s no doubt that IT work can be stressful – impossible deadlines to meet, failed backups and potential data loss, sometimes thousands or even millions of people depending on the systems and servers to work, over-demanding clients, being expected to know everything and fix anything (yesterday!) even if you’ve never even heard of it before or it’s way out of your area of expertise, being on-call 24/7 leading to lack of sleep and the lines between work and home life becoming blurred or non-existent.
As if all that stress wasn’t enough already, there are even more health issues to contend with – lack of physical activity while sat in front of a PC all day and half the night which not only contributes to weight gain, diabetes, poor posture & back problems, and general muscle atrophy, but also comes with a significant risk of DVT which can really ruin your day or even end your life far ahead of schedule.
Eye strain is another problem caused by being focused on a screen all day. Another form of strain which is common amongst IT workers (and others sat at a keyboard for long periods) is RSI or Repetitive Strain Injury.
When you’re working in a tomb-like data center or working the night shift and sleeping all day, you run the risk of never seeing the sun, with the resulting vitamin D deficiency and year round SAD symptoms (Seasonal Affective Disorder).
While you are rushed off your feet, tackling crisis after crisis with various clients, you are left with little time to eat healthy food and instead rely on fast food which is frequently not the healthiest available and typically is drenched in oil, dodgy chemicals, or lacks any discernible nutritional value even though sometimes deceptively tasty.
All these are real and very common issues which combine to form a walking talking health time bomb! It is no wonder that so many want to quit the industry and become a tree surgeon or something equally far from IT.
So what can be done to reduce these risks or is it all a lost cause? Fortunately there are some simple solutions, small lifestyle changes for example, which can make a world of difference.
You can get a Pomodoro timer (otherwise known as a kitchen timer but shaped like a tomato if you want to follow the trends) and set it to remind you to get up and walk around at intervals throughout the day. A few minutes every hour or so can help get the blood circulating and stave off the dreaded DVT. You can also start using a standing desk or even better, an adjustable standing desk which can be quickly switched from standing position, to old fashioned sitting position. Combine this with your kitchen timer and you’re sorted.
When you’re taking your 5 minute breaks you can of course head outside to walk around in the sun which will help prevent the pale goth look (but be careful of skin cancer!). While you are outside stretching the legs you can also give your eyes a quick workout by focusing on distant objects to make a change from the monitor screen a few inches away from your nose.
You could even do a bit of Tai Chi on the office roof or car park or a quick Chi Kung session by your desk (co-workers may give funny looks when you do this though and if you do it on-site at a customer location, who knows what they will think!).
An added benefit of Tai Chi/Chi Kung is that it not only helps with physical issues such as posture and general fitness, but it also doubles as a ‘movement meditation’ which can help you cope with or reduce the stress related problems.
Speaking of meditation, you could easily fit in a 12 minute Kirtan Kriya meditation session – just say Sa Ta Na Ma – be aware though that Sa Ta in this context is nothing to do with SATA disk drives! Some say it can even prolong life, but of course YMMV.
Besides the obvious hitting the gym for some exercise each day or so, you can walk or bike to work (assuming you don’t live too far) to get some free exercise in your otherwise wasted commuting time. Also you could walk up and down some stairs at the office, if there are any, and if not then you can easily do some Hindu Squats anywhere at any time.
If all else fails you can just do a Reggie Perrin and come back in disguise to start a new, healthy, stress free life.. perhaps involving trees.
Until next time,