Recent events in the U.S. have brought the issue of health care to the fore — reminding many freelancers and web workers from around the globe how important health is. And much has been said about the impacts of the new health care bill on small operators in the States.
Of course, health isn’t just about the availability of public health care — most of us are more focused on prevention than cure, and want to maintain good health for as long as possible. So, even though I’m not based in the U.S., I thought I’d put together my own seven-point web working health care plan.
My health care plan focuses on the maintenance of good health, and highlights the elements I need to manage to ensure I stay as healthy, happy and productive as possible. Here’s how it looks.
Food is fuel. The way we eat — do you prefer larger meals or frequent grazing? A main meal in the middle of the day or at night? — as well as what we eat can affect mood and motivation, as well energy levels and body temperature. That’s why diet is the first point in my health care plan.
Changes to your schedule, living arrangements and lifestyle can have a big impact on what you wind up eating, so it’s useful to step back and take an objective look at your eating habits and desires every so often, and to make sure you’re eating in a way that promotes good health.
Remote workers have a great opportunity to shake off the shackles of “acceptable” eating routines and eat when — and what — our bodies want. Take advantage, too, of the flexibility of not working in an office — if lunch at 3pm suits you better than lunch at 12.30, take it then. Don’t forget drinks, either — coffee, energy drinks, fruit juices and soft drinks can have a significant impact on your health, though you may not notice your intake adding up.
Healthy eating is about having the right foods on hand, so you may need to tweak your shopping and meal planning habits to support your diet. In my view of good health, finding decent food to eat is as important as getting exercise.
If food is fuel, exercise should be one of the ways we burn it up. But web work is often sedentary, and long working days can reduce the time we have available to exercise. If you think working remotely will give you more time to exercise, you may be right — but that doesn’t mean you’ll use the extra hours that way.
When I started working from home, I no longer ran home from the office each night (which used to my staple exercise). I needed to develop a new regime that suited my swiftly changing freelance schedule, the limitations of the area in which I live (no streetlights, so running after dark is out; no local pool that’s open in winter; etc.), and the undeniable allure of staying cozy inside all day, every day through winter.
Working from home can actually reduce the amount of incidental exercise you get each day. That’s why it’s the second point in my health care plan.
For people who work inside all day, prioritizing physical exercise is a must. Also, it’s important to recognize that dragging around a laptop, books, PDAs, phones, and other web work accoutrement as you walk around is a different kind of exertion from jogging, walking, or doing aerobics, yoga or tai chi unencumbered. Exercise isn’t just about burning energy: it’s about remaining limber, fluid and strong.
When we think about ergonomics, most of us think of wrist or back pain, but ergonomics also affects your sight, posture, nerves and muscles, which is why it scores third place in my web working health care plan.
For those of us sat at a desk staring at a computer for forty hours or more a week, ergonomics is crucial, but it can be harder for the remote worker who operates from a number of locations — cars, coworking spaces, public transport and cafes — because their ergonomic setup may change daily, or more frequently.
Don’t just consider ergonomics in the office — consider these issues as you plan your exercise regime as well. Stretching exercise, like yoga; exercise that builds strength in your hands, forearms, and core; and exercise that promotes good posture (ballroom dancing, anyone?) can lessen your likelihood of suffering some ergonomics-related health issues.
4. Mental health
I’ve talked before about how isolating remote work can be, but all web workers can face work and environmental pressures that can cause their mental health to suffer — and that’s before we consider the basic trials of life that can affect anyone in any walk of life.
Stress, competition, time pressures and societal and workplace expectations are just some of the factors that can negatively impact the web worker’s mental well-being. So mental health is another crucial part of my health care plan.
In my country, Australia, mental health has only recently come under the public health care system, which is a testament to the evolution of public views of mental health. These issues are slowly becoming mainstream and less of a “taboo” in many places, though mental illness still holds a certain stigma for many.
Like food and exercise, mental health is a fundamental aspect of an individual’s overall health. It’s important to treat it as systematically as you do your physical health regime. There are many simple tactics that can help you to be more aware of your mental health. Build down-time and free-time into your schedule; treat yourself every so often; undertake relaxing activities that help you switch off; learn to be aware of how you feel, and practice responding to, rather than ignoring, those feelings.
Good mental health will boost your productivity, work quality, and adaptability — sure. But, like good physical health, it’ll also make life on the whole more enjoyable.
I sleep more than most people, and I make no apologies for my early bedtime! Sleep is precious: it allows us time to repair both physically and mentally. And we all know what happens to our work output when we miss sleep — that’s why sleep is the fifth point in my plan.
The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke reports that insomnia affects about 40 percent of women and 30 percent of men, and becomes more common as we get older. And for web workers whose work is predominantly mental, who may have trouble switching off from work, and who may struggle to get enough exercise, insomnia can be a real problem.
There are plenty of tips for getting a good night’s sleep, but sleep problems aren’t just about insomnia. There’s also the small matter of making sure you get enough sleep each night. That’s not impossible, but like the other elements in my health care plan, it takes commitment as well as flexibility.
6. Condition management
Few of us suffer no physical or mental ailments at all. The range of health problems endured by my web working friends includes chronic joint and muscle pain, insomnia, allergies, respiratory problems, migraine, depression, poor vision — the list goes on. We are, after all, just human beings.
The sixth point in my health care plan is commitment to the management of ongoing conditions. Even if we’re not on a plan of treatment or medication for a health condition, we usually know that there are some things we should do (or avoid!) to alleviate the condition.
It’s important for our long-term health, productivity and happiness, to take the necessary steps to minimize the impacts of those conditions. This may mean tweaking our daily routines or personal habits, but in the long run, it’s worth it.
7. Health care safety nets: public and private
Many people in the U.S. are no doubt reviewing their health cover in light of the new health care bill. It’s important for web workers to know what services are covered by a national health plan (if their country has one) and what are not, so this is the last point in my plan.
Once you know the basics of your public health system, you’ll have an idea of the extra services you want to be covered for, and for which you’ll likely need to buy insurance. I treat health insurance as a safety net myself for likely eventualities, and since I work for myself, income protection insurance is a corollary to that. As you shop around you’ll get an idea of what’s available — and what you want.
These are the seven points in my own web worker’s health care plan. What do you feel are the most important considerations for your health?