|Are you suffering from a stiff neck or sore shoulders? Experiencing back pain or tension headaches? Do you feel anxious, overwhelmed and disorientated? Or are you finding yourself eating your breakfast at lunchtime, unsure which day of the week it is?
If the answer to any of these questions is ‘yes’, you may be suffering from ‘Working From Home syndrome’. And you’re not alone.
Since returning to practice in June, we have seen a steep rise in patients experiencing this new phenomenon. As the weeks pass, I see more and more patients with the above complaints, from feelings of tension and anxiety to numerous aches and pains. And each time, I find myself asking the invariable question: “Are you working from home?”
A syndrome is a set of correlating signs and symptoms that are caused by an underlying disorder or disease. While working from home may not be a medical condition, it is resulting in a number of related symptoms for a significant number of people. And with 60% of the UK’s workforce currently working from home, WFH syndrome is on the rise.
What causes WFH syndrome?
While the idea of working in your pyjamas, unlimited fridge access and time saved on commuting was novel at first, working from home has given rise to its own plethora of challenges. These include:
• Lack of mobility with no daily cycle or walk to work
• Inadequate work stations with makeshift desks and poor seating
• Disruptive work spaces surrounded by noisy children and day-to-day household activities
• Relentless screen time caused by hours of Zoom meetings, often without breaks
• Lack of social contact with friends, family and colleagues
• Lack of routine without set lunch or coffee breaks
• Blurred lines between home and work, with working hours extending into the evening
• Anxiety and uncertainty of an unknown future
As we head deeper into the winter months, the short days and cold weather will only intensify these challenges. And with no sign of change anytime soon, it is important we find a ways to manage and ease the symptoms of WFH syndrome.
What can you do to help?
Control the controllable
With so many unknowns at the moment, it is easy to feel like you do not have control of your life. So it is important to take stock of what you can control. What you eat, the breaks you take, what time you get out of bed — these are all still in your hands! Scheduling your day puts you back in the driver’s seat and reduces feelings of anxiety.
Give yourself permission to relax
When planning your day, it is important to include time to recharge your batteries — without feeling guilty.
Giving yourself full permission to switch off your phone and laptop is essential for a healthy body and mind. Maybe unearth your old stamp collection, or plant a terrarium? Learn calligraphy. Get a pet. Whatever you choose to do, make sure you make time for you.
It is no secret that regular exercise does wonders for your physical, mental and emotional health. Needless to say, getting active is one of the most effective ways to manage the symptoms of WFH syndrome.
If you can no longer cycle to work, why not use that time to go running in the park? I highly recommend the NHS Couch to 5K running app. This gentle programme is completely free and perfect for people who don’t know where to begin. Even if you think you don’t like running, you might enjoy the challenge! If you do decide to give it a go, it is important you get a good set of running trainers to protect your feet, knees and ankles.
Come and see us
If you are suffering from pain, tension or headaches caused by muscular strain, we are always here to help. We can help you to rethink your WFH routine and ensure your work station is not causing you problems. Where appropriate, we can also offer treatment and prescribe exercises to promote healing and reduce your pain.
Likewise, if you have an old ligament injury that is stopping you from exercising, please speak to us about shockwave therapy. This innovative treatment has a 80-90% success rate for chronic ligament injuries. It may be exactly what you need to get you back on your feet!
Try not to worry (I know, easier said than done!)
Anxiety is the underlying cause of a lot of musculoskeletal problems. We cannot separate our thoughts and emotions from our physical bodies. When we feel anxious or stressed, we breathe differently. Our sleep is disturbed. We adopt bad coping habits, such as overeating sugar (including alcohol) to maintain our blood sugar levels. All these things will increase our pain sensations.
We cannot blame posture alone for our aches and pains. We get pain because we don’t move and we don’t move when we are in pain, be it physical, mental or emotional.
My grandmother was a master of resilience. When I am faced with things I cannot control, I like to remember what she taught me:
1. Nothing lasts forever.
2. Nothing is ever so bad that it is not good for something.
So wherever you can, try not to worry. Look for the silver linings. Take time to breathe. This too will end and we will emerge on the other side! Take care of yourself, control what you can and if you are struggling, remember: we are always here for you.