Why Your Design Work Is Making You Sick and What You Can Do to Feel Better

Could your profession as a web designer be making you sick?

You may not realize it, but your work habits can make a big difference in how you feel. If you don’t believe me, think about how much time you spend at work.

If you work full time, you probably spend at least eight hours a day, five days a week on your web design projects. Add it up and that’s a significant chunk of time.

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Bad work habits can lead to poor health. Poor health can hurt your profitability. If you’re not working and you freelance, you’re not earning money. So, the best thing to do is make sure that you don’t have unhealthy habits.

In this post, I’ll identify seven common health problems many web designers and other freelancers face and explain how you can safeguard your health (and your business) against each one.

Note: I am not a doctor. This post should not be considered medical advice. If you experience pain or health problems that will not go away, you should see a physician.


Health Problem #1. Poor Posture

Do you sit up straight at your workstation as you work, or do you sort of slump over your keyboard?

Most of us do not sit properly while we work. That means that we spend eight hours a day with our spines misaligned and that can do a lot of damage.

If you have shoulder and neck pains or lower back pain and you can’t figure out why, your work posture may be the culprit. If you don’t watch out, you may find yourself shelling out big bucks to specialists to relieve the pain and repair the damage.

The fix:
Improve your posture by making sure that your office is ergonomically friendly. How to set up an ergonomic workstation from Sharon Vaknin writing on c|net explains how you can make your office more comfortable to work in.

Health Problem #2. Eye Strain

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Most of us work at the computer all day. That means we stare at a monitor, likely one that’s backlit, for periods of up to eight hours or more. Staring at the computer can lead to eye strain.

You could be suffering from eye strain and not really even realize it.

Here are just a few common eye strain symptoms:

  • Blurred vision
  • Dry eyes
  • Headaches
  • Redness
  • Sensitivity to light

While eye strain may not cause permanent damage to your health, it’s uncomfortable and can certainly slow you down. It’s worth it to change your work style to avoid any eye problems.

The fix: John Soares, writing on Productive Writers, has some specific advice to help you overcome eye strain in his post How Writers Can Minimize Eye Strain at the Computer. (Although directed to writers, the advice will work for anyone who spends a lot of time at the computer.) A few of his suggestions include changing the placement of the monitor, adjusting the brightness of your screen, and even wearing glasses.

Health Problem #3. Carpal Tunnel and Repetitive Motion Injuries

If you’ve ever suffered from carpal tunnel syndrome, then you know how very painful it is.

The pain is caused when the nerve near the carpal bone becomes compressed. The symptoms include extreme pain in the hand or wrist, numbness, tingling, or other weakness.

As a web designer, you may use a mouse or keyboard for hours at a time. While the evidence is not conclusive, repetitive motions like typing at a keyboard or using a mouse may make conditions like carpal tunnel worse. At the very least, carpal tunnel can make your work extremely uncomfortable.

This is definitely one health problem that you are better off avoiding if you can. If the condition persists and does not respond to more conservative treatments, surgery may be required.

The fix: Pay attention to your posture, and especially the position of your wrist. Take frequent breaks. Seek treatment early. An ergonomic keyboard such as Microsoft’s Sculpt keyboard or this one from Adesso may help.

Health Problem #4. Lack of Exercise

Another huge problem web designers face is that web design is mostly a sedentary job. Web designers (and other computer professionals) sit at their desks for long periods. Unless we make a concentrated effort to exercise, we probably won’t get any.

However, living a mostly sedentary lifestyle is unhealthy. Sedentary living can contribute to potentially serious health problems such as:

  • Diabetes
  • Heart problems
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Weight gain

The trouble is, we have to get our work done. So, sitting most of the day may seem inevitable. However, with a little extra planning you can work some exercise into your daily routine.

The fix: Some freelancers and web designers make use of a standing desk. Mark Lukach, writing on The Wirecutter, has published a good review of standing desks titled The Best Standing Desk. Another way to work exercise into your schedule is to adopt the Pomodoro Technique®, which alternates intense periods of work with short breaks. Just make sure to exercise during some of your breaks.

Health Problem #5. Poor Diet

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Image Source: Lindsay

You’re busy. You’re rushing to meet a deadline. And you’re hungry. What do you do?

Do you sit down and prepare a nutritious meal for yourself? Or do you grab a convenient pre-made processed food from your refrigerator or pantry?

If you’re like many of us, you rely on the processed food. Unfortunately, there are many problems with processed foods, including:

  • Low in nutritional value
  • High in chemical content
  • High in calories
  • High in fat

Grabbing a quick bite to eat may sate your hunger in the short-term, but in the long-term you could wind up harming your health.

Drinking a soda is even worse. A soda is full of sugar and chemicals and empty calories. If you are thirsty, drink water.

The fix: Even you don’t have time to cook, you don’t have to rely on processed foods. Keep your pantry and fridge stocked with healthy alternatives. For example, fresh fruit can quickly satisfy your craving for sugar in a healthy way. Or, put together a nutritious sandwich alternative to junk food in just a few minutes with some cold cuts and whole grain bread.

Health Problem #6. Stress

Web design is stressful. If you don’t believe it, think of all the pressures you face as a web designer:

  • Deadlines
  • Client meetings
  • Collecting payments
  • Competitive pressures
  • Complaints and demands
  • Interviewing new clients

Stress can make a number of health problems worse, including Asthma, headaches, and heart disease.

Fortunately, there are many ways to alleviate stress. Here are few:

  • Dump your worst clients
  • Exercise
  • Take a break
  • Meditation
  • Spend time with friends or family

Of course, not every stress reduction technique works for everyone.

The fix:
The key is to find the stress reduction technique that works best for you and to start using it.

Health Problem #7. No Health Insurance

Some freelancers choose to skimp on health insurance to save money. Usually, this is a bad idea.

If you don’t have health insurance, you are more likely to skip going to the doctor until a problem is really serious. Since many problems can be nipped in the bud with early detection, you’re taking a huge risk when you avoid doctor visits. By the time you do decide to go, you could be facing something really serious.

We’ve talked about insurance before on Vandelay Design Blog. Deciding whether you will be insured is one of the decisions that every freelance web designer needs to make.

In the U.S., health insurance laws are in the process of changing under the New Affordable Care Act. Much of the act will take effect in January of 2014.

The fix
: Find the best health insurance option for you, depending on where you are located. Go to the doctor when you don’t feel well. If you live in the U.S., Mike Smith’s post on Guerilla Freelancing, How The Affordable Care Act Can Help Freelancers, provides some basic information.

Your Turn

What health problems have you faced as web designer and how did you overcome them?

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