Written on Friday,
January 28th, 2011
at 11:30PM

Health issues for designers
The results showed that 15 per cent reported back problems, 15 per cent headaches and migraines, 13 per cent eye problems and 11 per cent repetitive strain injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome; six per cent reported obesity and five per cent circulation problems.

There were other serious issues too, with 17 per cent of you reporting psychosocial issues such as stress and depression, 12 per cent sleep problems and seven per cent relationship problems.

So what’s going on – and more importantly, what can we do about it?

A passion problem
Dr Gail Kinman is professor of occupational health psychology and director of the Research Centre for Applied Psychology at the University of Bedfordshire; she’s studied the effect work has on our physical and mental health. As she explains, creative people are at risk of certain conditions because we like what we do. “It’s all about job involvement,” she says. “People who do this type of work breathe it.”

As Dr Kinman points out, the flow that creatives experience – “when you are completely and utterly absorbed in what you’re doing, when the demands of what you’re doing are slightly beyond your capabilities” – is good for your wellbeing, but it can be bad for your health.

“You’re not aware of time passing, you’re not aware you’re hungry, you’re not aware that you’re sitting awkwardly.” If you’re sitting with poor posture and poor ergonomics for long periods of time, back pain and repetitive strain injuries are likely to say hello sooner rather than later.

The good news is that you can change this. Here’s how…

Pay attention
You can ward off many injuries with a bit of attention – a good, supportive chair and an ergonomically arranged desk, good lighting, a comfortable mouse and a posture that keeps you upright with your arms and legs at right angles. But one of the major threats to designers is lack of exercise.

If you’re solo or part of a relatively small team, then the combination of tight deadlines and long hours can make it difficult to find the time or the motivation to eat well and exercise regularly – and that can be fatal, especially if when you go home you relax in front of another screen instead of doing something for your fitness.

The long-term consequences of poor diet and lack of exercise include obesity, type II diabetes, circulation problems, back and neck problems, heart disease, and increased risk of some cancers like with the research of Lung Cancer Treatment and symptoms.

Exercise while your work

Some creatives have decided that the best way to address that is to exercise while they work, or at least to abandon the chair and work standing up.

Proponents of standing desks and treadmill desks – which are exactly what they sound like; desks attached to the kind of treadmill you’d find in a gym – say they help burn calories and help you live longer. But critics point out that standing all day can cause arterial disease and varicose veins, and if your posture isn’t perfect, they can contribute to back problems and repetitive strain injuries.

Take a walk
You’re better off taking regular walks – especially if they involve meeting up with people. “I’d say do something physically different from being at work, especially if your place of work is also your place of leisure,” recommends Dr Kinman.

While the ‘genius is close to madness’ cliché has now been comprehensively debunked, the nature of creative work isn’t always good for your mental health. Tight deadlines, tough requirements, job insecurity and the stress and strains of getting paid can make life miserable. It’s particularly pronounced if you work from home or remotely, where you don’t have the interactions you’d have with colleagues in the office.

“There is a very prominent model of job stress that is based on high demand, low control and social isolation,” Dr Kinman says. Together, those factors have been linked with serious illnesses including coronary heart disease and depression, but you don’t need to change all three to make your work less stressful.

It’s the combination of all three that hurts, so for example you might be juggling major deadlines, working all the hours God sends, and missing your friends or loved ones.

Social support is vital

“Social support is one of the most important factors,” Dr Kinman says. “What we need to do is to replenish ourselves, and social support is a very important part of that.” The support might be listening to you vent, or taking your mind off things, or practical support. All of it helps.

Can you get the same support from social media? Dr Kinman isn’t convinced. “Social support for creative people can be strange,” she laughs.

“You want people when you need them, but you want them back in their box when they start interfering with your work. Social media is very good for that, because you can do that management. But of course that means you won’t have the deep social interaction that you need.”

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