While remote workers can avoid catching the flu thanks to not being exposed to coughing colleagues, it doesn’t mean that we are totally immune to other illnesses. There are several physical and emotional issues that we’re especially prone to in this environment.
Here are some of the most common remote work health risks, and how to prevent them or know when to consult a licensed health professional.
Remote Work Health Risks: What You Need to Know
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
If typing is your livelihood—as it is for most remote workers—this is one health issue where you should be extra cautious. Pressing on a keyboard with wrists bent at a sharp angle for hours on end is a recipe for discomfort and possibly a more debilitating problem called Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Symptoms like burning, numbness, tingling, or pain signal its beginning, which may present in your thumb and fingers, but not your pinkie. (The sensation may also affect your forearm.)
Reduce its likelihood by adjusting the height of your keyboard to lessen the bending required to type, or consider investing in an ergonomic keyboard that eliminates harsh angles altogether.
The second scourge of the office-bound desk worker hasn’t left us behind, as back pain afflicts remote workers in droves. Curling up in cozy nooks might be great for a brief call or video chat, but watch out for chairs that lack lumbar support or require you to hunch over for long stretches.
If you have access to a standing desk (and the mobility/physical strength required to use it) this can greatly alleviate back pain. Otherwise, you’ll want to mind your posture while working outside the house, and make some ergonomic adjustments to your home office, too—lest you feel the need to invest in a slew of therapeutic massages or trips to the local chiropractor.
Remote workers are potentially at a greater risk of eye strain (and the oft-resulting headaches) because of our location independence. Since we work from a variety of locations—some with excellent lighting and available space, some without—we could unwittingly be contributing to conditions ripe for vision problems down the road.
So pay attention to your workspace of choice, whether it’s a local coworking spot, a coffee shop, or your home office. If you’re forced to sit a little too close to your screen or if the ambient lighting of your surroundings is making you squint, it’s time to relocate or set up a brighter desk lamp.
There’s cabin fever and the occasional bout of the everyday blues, and then there’s mild depression. If you find that it’s harder to get out of bed in the morning, move through a typical routine, and/or complete focused work, you may be experiencing an illness that requires treatment. The freedom of remote work can also lead to burnout due to fewer set boundaries, and lower levels of motivation caused by a lack of feedback or encouragement.
Share your feelings with your partner, close friends, or relatives, which can help you to feel less alone and enable you to brainstorm solutions you may not have thought about independently. These could include joining a local therapy group, taking part in mindfulness activities like meditation or yoga, or engaging with a behavioral therapist. Acting on symptoms rather than letting depression fester is important as it can stave off a negative longer-term outcome.
Whether or not you lean toward extroversion or introversion, if you’ve spent enough time working in isolation, your next outing to a major conference or group presentation may be downright anxiety-inducing. This can lead to a pattern of behavior and thinking that raises stress levels and impacts your desire to interact with others.
Before this happens, remember that working remotely doesn’t mean flying solo 24/7—even if you’re a freelancer or solopreneur. There are a variety of ways to integrate hobbies, time with pets, and gatherings with old friends or new contacts into your days. Again, if you do find yourself in a position where social anxiety is taking hold, reach out to a loved one or therapist—you can even connect via video chat.
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