For several months now, millions of people around the world settled into their work-from-home routines – but health professionals are now warning of dangers of staying at home.
According to Alisha Moopen, Young Global Leader at World Economic Forum and executive director at multi-national healthcare conglomerate Aster DM Healthcare, there are five physical and mental issues that arise from working from home.
“There are an array of dangers lurking within our own four walls, brought about by this pandemic, which can negatively impact our health,” she said in a recent blog post for the World Economic Forum.
Ignoring these problems could come back to haunt us, she warned.
“Those in lockdown or isolation who work or study from home need to address these demons before problems escalate into lifelong challenges.”
Moopen has dubbed the five dangers ‘DEMON’: device addiction; eye strain; mental health; obesity; and neck and back pain.
Your pre-COVID work commute might involve walking to public transport, picking up a coffee, picking up a newspaper or reading a book.
But since the pandemic hit, we’re looking at our devices and spending time online more than ever, said Moopen.
“The move into the digital world from the physical world has come with a price. We are ever more dependent on our screens.”
Zoom’s daily meeting participants broke past 300 million this year, while Microsoft’s productivity suite created more than 30 billion collaboration minutes in a single day.
Children, who have had to learn online, are glued to their screens too: the number of users on Google Classroom has doubled.
Meanwhile, our downtime is also spent on screen: Netflix increased its number of subscribers by 26 million in the first half of 2020.
In fact, if you feel anxious or fear when you’re not with your smartphone, there’s a name for that: ‘nomophobia’.
The solution: a digital detox. Take time out to intentionally put the screens down for a while, Moopen advised.
If device addiction means we’re spending more time in front of our screens, then naturally, eye strain – and potentially more eyesight problems – follows.
Online learning and the likelihood of developing myopia or near-sightedness go hand in hand, said Moopen.
“The rate of myopia has been rising globally with its prevalence among children in 6 to 19 years bracket estimated at around 40 per cent in Europe and North America and even higher in Asia.”
The symptoms that come along with digital eye strain are becoming more common, such as dry eyes, constant headaches, blurred vision or reduced visibility.
The solution: reduce screen time where you can; look up from your screen every 20 minutes to gaze at something 20 feet away; and schedule regular eye health check-ups.
A WEF-Ipsos survey of nearly 13,000 working adults across 28 countries found that the forced transition to remote work had adversely affected nearly half of the world’s workers.
More than half said they felt more anxiety about job security (56 per cent) and stress over changes to working patterns (55 per cent). One in two said they struggled to find work-life balance (50 per cent).
Specifically in Australia, a report about mental health from the Black Dog Institute found that those who had pre-existing mental health-related issues were at risk of experiencing these at greater levels, with health care workers, unemployed or casual workers, and those put in quarantine at increased risk.
The solution: Self-care – but don’t overcomplicate it.
“Simple and effective measures include maintaining a daily rhythm, limiting exposure to negative news media, focusing on positive thoughts, setting priorities and staying busy, while also staying connected with family members,” said Moopen.
Even if your pre-COVID commute wasn’t much of a commute at all, you’re still getting some steps in by walking to the bus or train station, to the cafe, to your office, and back again every day.
But if you’re working under lockdown conditions, you’re walking from your bed to the kitchen to your home office, at most – and obesity, already a global problem before COVID, is on the rise, Moopen points out.
“With quarantine and stay-at-home guidelines becoming normal, the opportunity to step out of the house for exercising and simple activities like walking dwindled,” she said.
“Various factors have contributed to a rise in obesity, including inexpensive calorie-dense food, screen dependance and the changing structure of communities that reduces or replaces physical activity, and inexpensive nonphysical entertainment.”
In the long run, staying home also can exacerbate diseases like diabetes and hypertension – which in turn makes us more vulnerable to the coronavirus.
The solution: Just get the basics right: get 8 hours of sleep every day; exercise regularly in some form; eat a healthy diet; and don’t overdo tobacco or alcohol.
Neck, back pain
If you don’t have a proper home office, you might already be feeling the consequences of this.
“Limited movement can stiffen neck and back muscles, causing severe pain and discomfort. If left unchecked, this can result in permanent pain which may transform into numerous visits to doctors and chiropractors for healing,” said Moopen.
The solution: Take frequent breaks to stretch; get a proper chair with good lumbar support; and upgrade your work station, or adjust your work set-up into a makeshift standing desk every so often if you can.
“Given we are in for the long-haul, people need to recognise the DEMON lurking in their homes – and stay away from it.”