Being a full-time writer is great—you have the opportunity to be creative, express your emotions, provide useful information to your readers, inspire people, and more. It’s a rewarding career, but—as with any other career—there are some downsides, too.
Writers typically spend a lot of time sitting at their computers, typing and reading. This puts them at risk for several health problems.
Let’s take a look at six of these potential problems and how you can prevent them.
1. Cardiovascular Disease and Other Chronic Diseases
It’s been said that sitting is the new smoking. That’s because sitting for a large portion of the day can lead to cancer, cardiovascular disease, and Type 2 diabetes. That’s because sitting can cause your body to process sugar and fat less efficiently—and changes in sugar and fat metabolism affect all kinds of things in your body.
To prevent the negative effects of sitting, there are a few things you can do. Besides exercising before and after work, you can try exercising during work. There are lots of exercises you can do at your desk, including chair squats and leg raises. You can even purchase desk exercise equipment (such as an under-desk elliptical). If your office or budget allows for it, you can purchase a treadmill or standing desk.
It’s important to interrupt your periods of sitting regularly instead of just exercising after prolonged, inactive sitting—the longer you sit, the more damage you’re doing and the harder it is to undo that damage. Be sure to exercise at your desk or get up and walk around the office every so often. If you’re struggling to get enough movement into your day, check out this list of ways to add more steps.
2. Vision Problems
Staring at a computer screen all day can lead to eye strain and blurry vision. Studies have also shown that staring at the computer for prolonged periods of time can increase your risk of glaucoma.
To avoid vision problems, take breaks from the computer screen. Every 20 minutes, you should look away for at least 20 seconds. You should also keep your computer at least an arm’s length away from your face.
Try positioning the screen so that you’re looking slightly down at it, rather than straight on or having to look up. This also reduces eye strain and neck strain, reducing the chance of vision problems.
If you’re still straining to see the screen, consider getting your eyes checked. You may need a mild prescription just for the computer, because your eyes are focusing at a specific distance that’s different from what you need to read a book, drive, or go about your daily life. Some people also get relief from using inexpensive drugstore reading glasses when they’re at the computer, but you should talk with an eye doctor to be sure you don’t have any bigger problems.
There are also specialized computer glasses with a slight orange or amber tint to the lenses that can help reduce eye strain by counteracting the blue wavelengths of light that come from electronics screens.
Another option is to install a special piece of software on your computer that changes the tint of the screen to reduce eye strain. f.lux is a free program that will adjust the color of your screen to help support your eye health and circadian rhythm—it may even help you sleep better at night by reducing the disruptive influence of blue light!
3. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs when there’s increased pressure on the major nerve in your wrist. For many writers, this is caused by the repetitive motions of typing. Here are a few things you can do to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome:
- Change your finger and wrist position as often as possible.
- Take frequent breaks from typing.
- Wear a wrist brace.
- Get an ergonomic mouse and keyboard.
- Consider using voice recognition software to reduce the amount of type spent typing.
- Perform specific exercises for carpal tunnel syndrome. Try these great stretches for writers.
4. Back and Neck Pain
Back and neck pain are both common in writers, who often sit hunched over their computers all day. To avoid these pains, you should get up and move around or stretch frequently.
You should also check your posture to make sure your back is straight, your shoulders are back, your knees are at a right angle to the floor, and your feet are flat on the ground. Try not to slump, slouch, or lean towards your computer: focus on staying upright and press your shoulder blades together and down.
Finally, you should get an ergonomic chair that provides back support. If you can’t replace your chair, at least consider adding a lumbar support pillow to help you find the right posture.
Working on the computer all day also puts you at risk for headaches. There are several reasons for this. One is that eye strain (from staring at the computer) can trigger headaches; another is that poor posture can throw off the natural position of your spine, causing pain in your neck and head.
But beyond that, writing can also be a stressful job due to the numerous deadlines, periods of writer’s block, etc. And of course, stress causes headaches too.
Depending on the source of your headache, there are different ways to prevent it. If your headache is caused by eye strain, you may need a new prescription for corrective lenses or you may need to take more breaks from looking at the screen.
If it’s caused by poor posture, you should invest in ergonomic furniture and stretch often.
Unfortunately, creative individuals are more prone to depression and other mood disorders than non-creative individuals. Writers are especially at risk due to the solitary nature of their career and having to deal with criticism and rejection.
To prevent or combat depression, it’s important to eat healthy, get plenty of exercise, practice stress reduction techniques, and consult a mental health professional as needed.
Be sure to reach out to your friends and family when you need support, whether it’s just help with chores or something more significant. Writers don’t have to be depressed and moody: take charge of your mental health and break the misery myth to live a better, happier, more productive life.
Even if you’re balancing your writing career with a day job, family obligations, community participation, and all the other activities a busy modern life entails, it’s important to take time to look after your health. After all, you can’t rock out your career if you’re not feeling your best!
Make time for stretch breaks; try to eat a balanced, healthy diet; find relaxation techniques that work for you; and remember to breathe! Your body—and your career—will thank you.
For more ideas on how to stay healthy as a writer, read on: