Being a freelance designer has its own pros and cons. You get to work from the comfort of your own home, but this does not mean that you are safe. The most obvious disadvantage is that you won’t be getting outside enough or enough Vitamin D. Since you work long, irregular hours and spend too much time in front of the computer, you are more prone to certain health problems than the rest of the population. Here are the most common health problems that designers suffer–and what you should do to treat them.
Tension headaches are a common health problem suffered by many people, not just designers. Tension headaches affect more than 78% of the population. Common causes of this health problem are staying in one position doing the same thing such as using a computer. Other common causes include stress, fatigue, eye strain, anxiety and physical inactivity. Notice that most causes are how you often describe a typical designer’s job: hours of work in front of the computer and non-stop pressure. If the headache bothers you for longer than two weeks, you may have developed a chronic tension headache. If it occurs on an occasional basis, it may be an episodic tension headache.
Tension headaches are often hard to read and thus often neglected and difficult to treat. For starters, an obvious symptom is if there is a tightness on the neck and scalp muscles. You may have pain in the head, scalp and neck area–like a tight band has been placed across your head. Often, the pain starts at the back of the head and spreads forward.
There’s not much to fear, though. Although tension headaches can get painful, these are rarely a symptom of a more serious illness. You only need a few changes in your diet and lifestyle will reduce any more tension headaches in the future. Of course if the headaches become more frequent, it may be an indication of a severe medical problem like a brain tumor or aneurysm. See a doctor for further evaluation.
Dealing with Tension Headache:
Once again, tension headaches don’t normally require a visit to the doctor, as they normally go away after a few hours. Here are a few natural ways to remedy the problem:
- Sleep it off. Once in the zone, designers will often forget to eat, sleep and relax. They will stare at the computer for several hours, in order to finish their project as soon as they can. This can lead to a severe headache, the best way to remedy this is to just lie down, close your eyes and take a power nap. The sooner you take a rest, the sooner the headache will go away.
- Avoid staring at the computer screen (or the sun, or other sources of light)– this can lead to a migraine, blurred vision and nausea. To reduce chances of getting a headache, wear tinted glasses. Minimize the brightness of the monitor and avoid using the computer in a darkened room.
- Give up smoking and avoid drinking. These activities can can make your headaches worse and happen more frequently. Alcoholic drinks with large amounts of tyramine can cause headaches, as well.
- Have an active lifestyle–exercise regularly and have a healthy diet.
- Use a cold compress, this is effective and can alleviate the pain in 20 minutes or less for most people.
- Reduce caffeine intake. While coffee wakes you up in the morning, it can also cause muscle tension, anxiety and insomnia that can trigger a tension headache.
Fatigue is the state of feeling tired and weary that stretches from a day to a few months. Fatigue can be acute or chronic. Being a graphic or web designer entails long and irregular work hours. High pressure jobs are more prone to fatigue, and this means us designers as well. Work-related factors such as long hours of work, strenuous mental or physical activity are leading causes for fatigue.
Symptoms include sleepiness (accidentally sleeping against your will), tiredness throughout the day, irritability, depression, giddiness, etc. Fatigue generally affects your overall work performance and productivity because your decision making, communication and planning skills are reduced. There is an inability to recall instructions and details. Creativity is killed by fatigue. There is reduced reaction time–similar to what you feel when drunk.
Dealing with Fatigue:
- The most obvious way to deal with fatigue is to get the proper amount of sleep. Get at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep a day! This is to ensure that you are well rested at night; and up and about in the morning.
- Change your work environment. There are several environmental factors that can actually increase fatigue. This includes dim lighting, hot temperatures, noisy settings and tasks that are boring and repetitive. Work in a place where you can be more alert, efficient and productive.
Computer Eye Strain
Designers are especially prone to computer eye strain; Spending most of their work hours in front of the computer. Prolonged use of the PC can lead to eye strain, migraines, blurred vision and other visual problems. It can even put you at risk of glaucoma.
Symptoms of computer eye strain include: headache during or after computer use, dry eyes, slow focusing when looking at near and far objects, blurred vision and doubling of vision. This may be coupled with neck and back pain and pain in the wrists and shoulders while working on the PC.
Dealing with Eye Strain
- Don’t forget to blink every once in a while ;). We designers sometimes tend to forget that our human eyes need to blink, especially when staring into the computer screen. Forgetting to blink can lead to dry eyes.
- When working, give your eyes time to rest. For every 30 minutes or so, stop staring at the computer screen and close your eyes or look somewhere else. For a focusing exercise, focus on an object at least 10 feet away.
- Work in a properly lit workspace. Place your lamp behind you, and not with the light facing you. Adjust your monitor screen’s Brightness and Contrast settings to help ease strain on the eyes.
Stress is a common enemy for designers. Some react to it in a good way, some in bad, others in worse. Stress comes when there are major life changes in work, home or relationships. Tremendous amounts of stress can keep you awake at night, triggering stress-related insomnia.
Obviously, if you have insomnia, you have difficulty sleeping. Other symptoms of stress-related insomnia include change in your sleeping pattern or body clock; a nagging headache, stiff neck or back ache; rapid breathing, fatigue, irritability and sweaty palms.
Because sleep is so vital for one’s overall health, insomnia can greatly affect your work ethic and productivity. You become more hot-headed, mentally slower, less productive and tired throughout the day.
Dealing with Insomnia:
- PMR or Progressive Muscle Relaxation. Stress causes our body muscles to tense up, so PMR is a great tool to destress and relax your body.
- Find a hobby to destress! Go biking, do yoga, paint or try journaling. These activities can improve your overall health and stress management. It clears one’s mind from toxic and negative feelings that may have been causing you to lose your zzzz’s.
- If your insomnia has been going on for several months you should seek medical help. Insomnia can be healed through proper medication and therapy.
- Improve ‘sleep hygiene’ to get a better amount of sleep. Sleep and wake up at the same time everyday. Exercise regularly. Do as much as to avoid coffee, smoking or alcohol, most specially before bedtime. The bedroom should only be used for sleeping, and not for a place for office work or for reading.
Neck and Shoulder Pain
Neck and Shoulder pain is a result from sitting in the same position when working, and it’s especially associated with anyone who works with computers. This can lead to bad posture, as well as pain in the back, chest, arms, hips, thighs and legs. Neck and shoulder pain can increase fatigue and tensed muscles, eventually leading to more serious problems like major tissue injury, spinal joint dysfunction, etc.
Dealing with Neck and Shoulder Pain
- A three minute break every thirty minutes will work wonders. Stand up, stretch your shoulders and neck, and breathe deeply.
- Get an ergonomic chair. The chair must be adjusted according to your height so that your back rest supports your torso’s weight, thighs parallel to the ground and feet firmly on the ground.
- Alternate use of hands. You don’t have to be ambidextrous, but try switching work from one hand to another to balance the load. Most often than not, shoulder and neck pain happens on one side than the other only.
- Use your forearm rest. This can greatly reduce the load of your shoulders by supporting the weight of your forearms while using the computer.
- Seek medical attention for recurring or worsening neck and shoulder back pains.
Rachel Arandilla is a curious subject -- she appreciates things that are quirky & clever. She loves spontaneity and adventure. She is a carefree soul, has a deep love for travel, culture and languages. And she's beginning to wonder she keeps on referring to herself in third person perspective.