Saturday, March 22, 2014

Taking Care of You - Guest post for Karen by Nina Niskanen

Taking Care of You 

Hey there Prosers! Karen was kind enough to invite me to write a post for you today.

We were both students of Mary Robinette Kowal - although granted in different classes - and have been meeting online at least weekly for almost a year now, even with the ocean between us. Yes, I live in Helsinki, Finland, in the land of supposed cold (though there hasn't been much evidence of that this winter). I like to write science fiction, fantasy and horror and for fun I blog in both English (at ) and Finnish (for a geek girl community blog at ). I'm so far unpublished but I'm working hard at it.

You can probably guess that I spend a LOT of time in front of the computer. My day job is in software development and I dislike writing longhand so it shouldn't be that surprising that I sometimes get problems with tension and repetitive stress injuries. Since I'm not willing to give up either profession just yet, I've had to learn to be better to my body. Writing doesn't feel like it should be able to cause injuries. You are after all just sitting still and doing nothing much. But that nothing much turns out to be the cause of a whole host of ailments due to the repetitive nature of the work you're doing when you're writing. Kind of like the way continuously walking the same path over and over again wears a groove into the ground. Only in the case of repetitive stress injuries (RSI) the groove turns into inflammation and pain. Since I'm sure I'm not the only one with these problems, I thought I'd share some tips for dealing with repetitive stress injuries and more importantly prevent yourself from getting them in the first place.

Yoga Bunny is one way to stay

  • Learn to work two-handed

    This is not an ideal solution if you've already got an injury (you might end up with RSI in both hands and that is just buckets of fun, let me tell you). But consistently using the mouse alternately with both of your hands will help you at least keep injuries at bay for longer and more likely prevent them from happening in the first place. At first it's awkward, frustrating and downright evil trying to work with your alternate hand but if you persist it's going to get easier and over time it will start feeling natural. I'm right-handed and I have a right-handed vertical mouse at home so I use my mouse at the day-job left-handed. It always confuses my co-workers which is a nice added bonus.

  • Remember to stretch

    There are very few ways to overstate the importance of stretching. Doing stretches regularly can mean all the world when it comes to avoiding injury in static work like using a computer. This video includes some very good stretches that you should totally be doing regularly. And I do mean regularly. Most studies say that you should be taking a small break at least every hour, though that can be really hard during the flow. Some studies go as far as saying that you should step at least a couple of steps away from your desk every half hour or so.

  • Head to the gym

    I'll let you in on a little secret; I'm lazy as all get out. I hate going to the gym because it's boring and takes time and all that jazz. But it turns out that paying attention to your muscle tone is incredibly important pretty much anywhere but especially in office work because there's little to no job-related mobility involved. I don't mean that you need to become a fitness junkie but going to the gym once or twice a week is just making sense. And don't just focus on your arms and shoulders either. It turns out that leg, butt, lower back and abdominal muscles totally play a part in your posture and how much static work your body can take. Yoga is also good for this purpose and my favorite free option is Yoga Bunny

  • Ergonomics is important

    You may have heard this before but it bears repeating; you can't just work any way you please. You're not twenty or less anymore. Unless you are twenty or less, in which case: congratulations! You can probably still get away with working in positions even cats would find improbable. Enjoy it while it lasts. But for the rest of us, we need to pay attention to the posture we work in, no lounging on the couch to write! The best rule of thumb is that any time you're actively fighting gravity with any single part of your body, you need to find a better position. Immediately if not sooner. Your hands should be at about a 90 degree angle and your eye-line more or less directly ahead. Down is better than up unless it's too far down at which point you're going to be hunching to see the screen and that's bad. Cleveland has helpfully provided a chart you can use to check your own ergonomics.

  • Getting gear

    You can probably guess by now that if you have the money to burn or are crafty on your own, there is all sorts of gear you can get and make. My own favorite is the standing desk. I use a Salli adjustable desk partly because I got it (relatively) cheap and mostly because it's made by a Finnish company. You can pretty easily set up your own standing desk from the materials you have on hand or available cheaply, just as long as you get creative. You can also get a whole host of ergonomic mouses and keyboards. I use the Evoluent VerticalMouse and Microsoft's Natural Ergonomic Keyboard. There are lots of options out there and it's a good idea to at least go see them in person before making any sort of purchasing decision. What works for one might not work for another. Basically, whatever helps you relax your muscles better while you're at the keyboard is good.
A lot of people have also had very good results with dictation (Terry Pratchett and Kevin J. Anderson being the most famous among them) but so far I haven't yet taken that step.

Thanks to Karen for letting me share this all-important message to you and thank you all for reading. Remember to take care of yourself!


  1. Great post! It is important for us to take good care of ourselves, thanks for the reminder and the great suggestions.

  2. This is fantastic advice. Thank you. And I've been looking for a standing desk, so I'm excited to check that one out.

  3. Darn. As far as I can tell, it isn't available in the U.S.


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