Remedies to minimize pain and stress, and maximize performance.
If you’re reading this, chances are you work in front of a computer. All day. And whether you love your job or hate your job, chronic sitting and desk work take tolls on both the body and the mind.
To start, here is a comprehensive infographic of many of the physical symptoms that can arise from chronic sitting:
Some of these are extreme, like “early death,” but what may be worse is that others are now considered normal: mushy abs, tight hips, and bad back. And the myth is there’s nothing you can do about it — If you have an office job, you have to be stressed and in pain (Top secret: You don’t).
These now “normal” physical issues get worse over time and end up being serious, chronic issues. At first, they just cause mild discomfort, then, without even noticing, you’re less productive, relying on caffeine and sugary snacks, your immune system is compromised causing missed days at work, and then you’re drinking more to numb the pain or the stress, then come the prescription drugs (for pain, insomnia, IBS, or anxiety), and eventually you may need surgery. This is the all too common story for the office employee.
Now, you may be thinking, “Oh, and an app is going to keep me out of surgery!” And the answer is, well, yes.. maybe.
Surgery is a last minute option for a chronic issue. Prevention, through yoga, exercise, physical therapy, or meditation, are first measures. While apps are certainly not a replacement for yoga classes or going to the gym, many will help. Indeed, some yoga is better than no yoga. Some meditation is better than no meditation, some activity is better than no activity, both for the body and the brain.
Another reason apps work well at work is because they ask us to take a break, which Jeff Haden lists as #1 on his list of 5 Ways to Work Smarter Not Harder.
Haden shares Steven Covey’s story about the woodcutter whose saw gets more blunt as time passes and he continues cutting down trees. If the woodcutter were to stop sawing, sharpen his saw, and go back to cutting the tree with a sharp blade, he would actually save time and effort in the long run.
You’re probably not a woodcutter, but you get the metaphor. Your brain and your body are the tools that allow you to do your work. So you need to keep them sharp. And this is more than just exercising before or after work. CNN just reported on findings that chronic sitting can lead to early death even if you exercise regularly.
When you sit, not only to you over work certain muscles (wrists, shoulders, back) and underwork others (core, legs) your metabolism slows down 90% after just 30 minutes. This is your body’s ability to turn food into fuel. Your metabolism is responsible for your energy levels. It’s responsible for all the things you need to do, from digesting food to solving a math problem.
So yes, the body is affected by chronic sitting and office work, but so is the brain. At best, the brain can focus on a specific task or set of tasks for 90 minutes before focus begins to wane. For many of us, it’s closer to 30 minutes. In order to keep focus up, the brain needs to do something different. This is no different from athletes who cross-train to enhance agility. For both the brain and the body: Rote repetition will cause burnout. You have to change it up. Standing periodically and doing a simple stretch, will help keep your muscles and metobolism “sharp.” Closing your eyes and doing a meditation or breathing exercise will lower your stress levels. Giving your wrists and hands a 3 minute break is great. Giving them 3 minutes of yoga or physical therapy is even better.
Don’t spend your breaks looking at facebook or reddit. Make a break an actual break. Don’t just distract yourself, treat yourself. Enter a space of self-care, which is a discipline, not a luxury. Check in with yourself. Learn something like a yoga posture or a language.
This is not easy, and practically impossible without a teacher or a methodology. This is where wellness apps can be helpful. They bring the teacher to you. They give you a method and a time period to counteract the pain and stress of desk work, and you’ll naturally take a break at the same time.
Yodesk is a new, web-based platform that combines yoga techniques with cloud based technology. When you sign up, you get your own, personalized yoga playlist. It uses videos with clear instruction from real teachers. It also has a customizable notification feature that allows you to set breaks when you want them. The sign up is easy and you get a two week free trial. Pros: It targets specific pain points in the body, meaning if you have wrist pain or back pain, etc. you will get specific yoga techniques for those areas. The breathing exercises and hydration reminder make Yodesk the complete package. Cons: It’s new and there’s no mobile version yet. This must be because it’s designed for yodesk?
Headspace has recently gained a lot of traction in the past few years. It’s a mobile app that focuses on guided meditation. Once just a phone app for hippies, it’s now being recognized as a positive asset in workplace wellness programs, and is making meditation a household word. It’s easy to use and the cost is reasonable, especially when you sign up for a year. My fiancée loves the new design and cute cartoon characters. Pros: You just need headphones and can do this anywhere. It’s recent redesign is easy to navigate and fun. Cons: It doesn’t address physical pain or inactivity.
Clue is a period tracking app that helps you learn how your period affects you. Simply input your physical symptoms such as headaches or cramps, as well as behavior patterns, like drinking or lack of sleep, to get a clearer picture of your mental and physical changes during your period. Clue helps create an objective picture of your period-self during a subjective time. While this may not seem like a wellness app, staying in touch with your body’s rhythms is definitely help minimize unnecessary stress at work. Pros: The comprehensive design makes this one of the best female apps on the market. Cons: It’s specialized to the female and only one (albeit important) part of your month/life. May work best in combination with another app on this list.
The app uses two main features: “Moments” and “Modules.” The Moments give you a great way to track how you feel throughout the day or week. The Modules gives you specific tools used by psychotherapists to help you address an overload of certain feelings like anxiety or jealousy. I like this app because it can help you develop a routine of self-awareness. Part of the problem with overwhelming or explosive emotions isn’t really the emotions themselves, it’s often the repression of theses emotions, not acknowledging them or allowing them a space for processing. Pros: Takes on a challenging task and simplifies it. Cons: Does not address physical issues or inactivity.
Whil is a one-stop shop for online wellness and offers thousands of classes in meditation, yoga, leadership, and more. If you’re looking for everything, this is the place, and the content here is impressive and the design is sleek. However, you can’t help but wonder if their quality is undermined by their quantity and if the jack of all trades is a master of none... Pros: whil is the complete package for the Wellness Director looking for complete, online programming. In fact, it may be all they need. Cons: It may be a bit much for the individual to manage and come off as too corporate.
I’ve included a language learning app on here because learning something new is another way to keep the mind fresh and sharp. Plus, being able to speak different languages is cool! I also am particularly fond of duolingo. My fiancée is Italian and thus I’m having to learn Italian. It’s tricky. I tried Babbel for a while and while it’s good, the design isn’t attractive and it feels more like you’re studying in middle school. Additionally, the modules are longer. And it’s not free. Duolingo is free, has a fun and easy interface, and works in small doses. Pros: Free, easy to use, good for the brain, and the owl is cute. Cons: May not do much for physical pain or stress.
Whatever your choice, do something to address the adverse affects of work, chronic sitting and the pain and stress costs.That thing or things you choose will save you time, pain, stress, and money. Yes, even money. While we didn’t go into the financial benefits of yoga and other mindfulness techniques, here’s a good start on how yoga saves you money, and another article from Harvard.