This was me around nine months ago:
I woke up after short hours of sleep and could not quite make out the opposite wall. It was as if half the room was a steam bath. My right eyesight had become cloudy - the doctor confirmed: inflammation of the iris.
I was knocked out for several days damned to evade any screen time - no coding, no videos. Only in these moments, one cherishes the careless hours of healthiness that we otherwise spend in front of glaring screens and tables too high, equipped with malformed mouses and odd chairs, weakened by tasty-but-nasty food and sleep long gone.
Although we are not working on construction sites (or are we?), we need to take care of our body and mind. And in this post, I just want to share how I learned to survive a developer's life.
(And if you don't want to read that, just check out the videos below!)
The Hunchback of Notre Dame could have easily been a developer! Doesn't his posture scream overtime crouching over a MacBook to get that feature into the next release? I definitely felt that way.
Sometimes we are that much into our passion that we just don't leave our workplace. Almost immediately we slouch into an awkward position and somehow remain in that position for hours. And the worst you can probably do for your muscles is not moving at all for a long time, forcing yourself into a position evolution definitely did not prepared us for.
After a couple of months, I developed serious back pain. Craning my neck was also very uncomfortable. I learned that, ironically, the best cure against back pain is what aches so much: movement. So, I kept walking. And turning. And stretching. One step at a time until everything became manageable.
But prevention is even better! I now try hard to walk around the office at least once every hour. This can be achieved by little things like drinking out of a glass instead of having a jug of water at hand (so you have to walk to the dispenser from time to time). Even just putting that glass on the window board can give you a little amount of that sweet, sweet gymnastics when you actually have to stand up to get a drink. I gained a reputation for doing weird little dances during work just to give my body a shake.
Please, please, please ask your employer (or yourself) to get you an adjustable table and chair! These factors are vital for a comfortable and healthy position for your back. The height of your monitor also plays a significant role in giving me neck pain. It has actually been too high, I was stretching my neck unnaturally. Rule of thumb: Top of the screen should be on eye level!
You will find more tips in this video. There is not a problem that reams of paper cannot solve! 🤣
Once I got rid of my back pain, there was another sensation awaiting me. Typing or using a mouse started a fire inside my forearm as if my tendons were replaced by tiny needles. Hello, Carpel tunnel syndrome, my old friend?
Fortunately not! But I was not keen on going down that road. During my last job, I solved this by putting my arm in some kind of DIY splint made out of cardboard. This time I tried to fight the cause and not the symptom: As long as you are not using an ergonomic vertical mouse, you are turning and twisting your forearm and wrist such that your tendons are constantly overstretched. A vertical mouse is not something I considered using, so I had to find out which kind of "mouse gripper" I am:
- Palm Grip - Placing your whole hand onto the mouse, thereby the fingers are locked. Usually, the whole palm lays on the mouse.
- Claw Grip - Similar, whereas index and middle finger are bend and tucked up - looking like a cat's paw. Palm does not lay on the mouse anymore enable fingers to move a little bit.
- Fingertips Grip - Only fingertips touch the mouse, nothing else. Movement does not required any wrist movement.
The last two ones are the grips to go for! Try to do all mouse movements involving the forearm and elbow and not the wrist only. It will strain the already stretched tendons. (Be careful not to use your shoulders though.) This is where the newly arrived adjustable tables and chairs come into play. If the angle between hand and keyboard is to big, you will stretch your tendons. If the angle is to low, you risk locking arm and wrist.
And what about typing? I am actually trying to type with my hands hovering over the keys. Do not rest your hands on the keyboard. They will just get stuck there forcing you to work with your wrist all the time. I know. It is a lot to remember. Visualizing all this with the following video will hopefully remove any doubts!
Back to my steamy eye.
What did I learn from that? Obviously, I was focusing too hard on the big rectangle in front of me. My eyes dried out over time. I did not give them a chance to relax at all.
First of all: the distance to the screen. If you are working with a laptop, get a stand and a Bluetooth keyboard to get some space between you and the machine! Many people also favor the 20-20-20 rule (i.e.: every 20 minutes look at something 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds). Besides the fact that I don't know how much a foot is, it is easy to forget. And I am not a fan of setting an alarm as it rips me out of the routine.
I like to combine relaxing my eyes with the aforementioned walk. Ideally, a walk outside or to the balcony to focus something in the distance. What really helped was getting a seat next to a window. Just checking where all the noise comes from or what the weather is outside reminds me to lay my eyes onto the horizon!
Or just water your eyes like a plant. From the incidence on, I always have eye-drops in my drawer by the desk. For emergency. Otherwise, I splash water into my face, close my eyes, rub them. This way, we will never get those red eyes again!
Luckily, my current environment is kind of quiet. But I also experienced spaces where concentrating and blocking out dialogues or machine noises become very hard. So, what to do? Buying expensive noise-canceling headphones? They can work surprisingly well at filtering out some voices and frequencies around you. What about music? Definitely a yes, if you don't crank it up the scale, of course - which would actually make you a noise polluter!
In the end, I went with the headphones. They even provide you with a tool to stop regular intruders to interrupt your working flow. It can be signal to the outside that you are in the zone right now. And you get your peace.
Listen to the following video with caution. Ironically, it has a weird audio mixing. 😆
By now, we all now how unhealthy it is to not get enough sleep. So, the video I leave here is just how you can find out whether you are sleep deprived.
I cannot tell you what the perfect amount of sleep is. Sleep has always been very individual. Falling asleep though is more researched. Reading a book in bed for example helps you fall asleep faster than checking dev.to (or any other site 😉 ) on your mobile does.
Oh, and don't put on your favorite song as an alarm in the morning. 🙈
That all was about the stuff you do at work. Do not tell me about things I have to do in my free time! I won't. Everybody knows what we should eat. And how much we should work out. Of course, working out benefited my back health. But the most palpable change I noticed while and after putting my body in shape was the improvement of my mental state. Going on a 30-minute-run you can eliminate all the thoughts around work. Cutting the sweets and greasy edibles also stabilized my mood. But this would open up a whole new realm of self-care: How to not get depressed or insane.
Apparently, you can train your gut to signal the brain which foods to crave. Check out this clip if your interested!
And I am far from perfect. I find myself slouching or not doing exercise after a long day of work. Heck, I am writing this article at 11pm, I have to get up at 6am tomorrow!
But as always, we just need a constant reminder of what's in our hands. We need to talk about this more often. With colleagues, with employers, with the internet. Because after all work is done, all laptops are closed and all pull requests merged, we come home. And the only relics of our work should be great user experiences and not the aching of our bodies!
- Adjust your equipment!
- Tension is bad!
- Take breaks!
- Talk about it!
Make better choices about your code and your career.