How to improve your ergonomics at home – five tips
Being a student wears on your body. It can be difficult to find ergonomic workplaces on campus and many sit on their couch or at the kitchen table at home when studying digitally. On this page, you can read about five ways in which you can improve your studying ergonomics without resorting to professional office chairs or expensive technology.
Vary your working position
The most important part of ergonomics is actually not how you sit but that you frequently change position. It’s not wrong to sit on the couch for a little while or to sit cross-legged – presuming it feels comfortable. You could perhaps try to study while standing next to a bookshelf or lie down for a few minutes while you rehearse what you just read. The most important thing is to not sit in the same position for too long. If you live with others, you could try switching places or even switching rooms with each other – it can also be good for the concentration to not be surrounded by your usual distractions.
With that being said, there are of course things you can do to relieve your neck and back when sitting down in front of a computer. It is good, for example, if the top edge of the monitor is in line with your eyes. The head is heavy and it becomes an unnecessary burden on the neck when you tilt it forward and downward. At the same time, working with your arms raised excessively is not recommended, so simply place your laptop on a stack of books if you have access to an external mouse and keyboard.
Another method to facilitate proper sitting posture is by rolling up a towel and placing it under your legs or by the lumbar region. This provides a slight forward lean of the hips and offers support to your back, similar to what you would experience with an office chair.
If you still find yourself leaning forward a lot, try to do “counter-movements” from time to time. You could, for example, interlace your fingers behind your neck and tilt your head backward, or try pulling your chin back so that you get a double-chin.
Include movement in your plans
Plan for as much movement as possible throughout your day. All movement is good – even if it means just taking a few steps to get a glass of water. You could perhaps run to the laundry room or make your bed during a planned break, or why not do some sun salutations or toe lifts.
Creating a good and realistic plan is generally an excellent ergonomic precaution. You tend to take fewer breaks if you feel stressed or are falling behind, leading to prolonged sessions in front of the computer or your books. The body then becomes tense not only because of stress but also as a result of the static work without breaks.
Now that you’re making plans, you might as well include longer workouts in your plans, such as brisk walks or gym sessions. Book an activity with a friend, that way it’s easier not to prioritise something else.
If you're studying together with other people, you can schedule so-called walk-and-talks, meaning you discuss your studies while going for a walk. Problem-solving often works better in motion. If you’re afraid of forgetting what you’ve talked about, you can always make a voice-memo in the meantime.
Read more about physical activity and stress on the Student Health Centre website.
Don’t forget the light
Lighting is also an important part of your work environment. If the lighting is bad, one tends to squint and tense up in order to see better which can lead to aches in the body. As a student with limited finances, it’s not always possible to do something about one’s lighting, but small and cheap changes can make a big difference.
It’s good if it’s fairly bright in the room where you’re studying. If you don’t have a ceiling light, you could perhaps point a small lamp toward the ceiling in order to spread the light. If you are writing by hand or reading a book, it’s good to have a reading lamp.
Light is good, especially daylight, but avoid having your eyes directly exposed to it. It’s often better, for example, to have a window beside your working place than in front or behind you (if you are sitting by a screen in which the light can be reflected). An easy way to check if the lighting is appropriate is to do the so-called “baseball cap test”. The idea is to place your hands over your eyes like the visor of a baseball cap – if this feels nice, your eyes are likely a little strained.
Don’t forget the sound
Most of us read, write and solve problems best in a relatively quiet environment. Contrary to popular belief, for example, it doesn’t seem to work so well to listen to music while studying. Some research shows that music steals focus from the brain even if we don’t notice it ourselves since music puts us in a good mood.
Sounds that take away attention from the studies at hand can also lead to the body tensing up and a harder time concentrating. Having to drown out sounds in your surroundings becomes a stressor if you need to talk to someone in a Zoom-classroom, for example.
Therefore, it’s important to establish a relatively quiet study environment. An exception, however, could be if you have adhd or other concentration issues – in this case, white noise can help you focus. It doesn’t work for everyone or in all situations but it can be worth a try if you find it difficult to concentrate in certain environments. You can find white noise on platforms such as YouTube and Spotify.
Feeling lonely can also be bad for your back
One precaution for a healthy work environment that is often overlooked is having other people around you with whom you can both work and take breaks in productive ways. The one who studies entirely or partly digitally will need to make a greater effort to establish and maintain contact with their coursemates, but it’s worth the extra effort. Studying together with people in the same situation as you is not only enjoyable – it increases learning.
Make it easier for the other people in the group to contact you and contribute to an environment where everyone can reach out to ask questions, have study sessions together or why not take breaks together. It can be a worthwhile investment to learn about the digital tools that you will use as part of your studies as thoroughly as possible. This will enable you to effectively communicate with each other and facilitate collaborations.