Thursday, January 24, 2013

Art can break your back (or how to stay healthy at your workspace)

Today, I want to share with you a topic that might not directly be about art, but about staying healthy as an artist. It might not be an important topic for everybody, as some people are born with an iron spine and mighty muscles that never get tense, but I myself had to suffer from a bad back my whole life. I know each artist has a different problem zone, a good friend of mine constantly has pain in her wrists when drawing (but no clear diagnose), some always suffer from headaches, others just have to "good old" neck tenseness. Personally, I have a lot of problems in my lower back (from time to time, one of my intervertebral discs swells and pushes on my nerves) and my neck and shoulders are usually made of stone on a constant basis).

All I can say is that over the past years, I have FINALLY started to take some measures to improve my workspace and life and oppose the slow decline of my spine and muscles. Believe me: The problem will never go away if you work around 7-10 hours in front of the computer or drawing board, but you can significantly improve your situation. I want to introduce to you the things that helped me the most.

The Chair 

So, one of the most obvious things is a good chair. I cannot tell you how ignorant I was about that matter up until 3 years ago. I even worked on wooden kitchen chair for some time, for god's sake. I also had office chairs, but all of them were heave, ugly objects with no real support fot the spine. Now, I know everybody has different problem areas and enjoys different types of chairs. Since I was pretty money-less for some time, I decided to stay away from the 1000 EUR ergonomic chairs and chose "MARKUS" from IKEA: It's only around 150 EUR and comes in different colors. It enables me to sit like this:

As you can see, I chose to add a nice, soft neckpillow and another pillow under my legs to elevate my legs slightly. The chair isn't perfect, since the arm rests are slightly too hight for me. If you spend a bit more for a chair, you will be able to have control over that as well.

The Desk

Some of you know that I decided to spend lots of moneys on a standing desk. Now, a good friend of mine recommended a company in Scandinavia with high quality material (I e-mailed them directly for names of business partners in Austria)  and reliable electronics for the desk. I can adjust the height with two buttons in a matter of around 20 seconds. This might be one of the best investments I have ever made for my back. I can not only adjust it to the perfect height when working standing, but also when sitting (usually desks were always too high for me). I recommend doing goods research on companies before purchasing a standing desk and NOT going for the cheapest option. Since I have this desk, I work 30% standing, and 70 % sitting. I switch around every 2 hours, and I use a soft standing mat to stay mobile and flexible in my hip.  


I always have been pretty horrible at taking breaks. I would work for hours straight, until my eyes would tear up, my mouth was dry from not drinking enough and my spine would cry for help. I recently talked to superb artist Florian Satzinger, who told me that he takes breaks every 45 minutes. I couldn't believe it: Every 45 minutes?! Wouldn't that break ones concentration? I tried it out: I got a 5 EUR egg timer and timed it to 45 minutes. The shrill ringing when it went off was my cue to take a break, from 5-15 minutes, sometimes longer, like for lunch. Sometimes I'll throw in a few exercises, like YOGA, into those breaks. Why an egg timer and not a phone? Because only takes half a second to time it which motivates me far more to use it.The result: I work much more concentrated, I stay fresher and my body feels better after a long working day. I HIGHLY recommend it if you work as a freelancer. If you are in an office, you should do the best you can to take those breaks, maybe visit the bathroom even tough you don't have to, get a coffee, whatever it takes. Or at least every 2 hours if possible.

What can I say. We all know it, we all want to do it, we all fail at doing it regularly: Sport, exercise, whatever you call it. But around 4 years ago I realized that doing sport at least 2-3 times a week is mandatory to not make my problems much worse. Consider the insane amount of stress we put on our body by sitting so damn much. Our eyes always focus on the same distance, our legs are always bend in the same way, our neck is bend in the wrong way from all the computer staring. Find the exercise you like Don't force yourself to run or swim if you don't like it. Try out different things. Dance if you like dancing. Just do SOMETHING and do it at least around 3 times a week for 45 minutes. I like to switch it up a lot. I bike everywhere, I go to the gym 2 times a week, sometimes I swim, sometimes I hike. I lost 20 pounds over the past year with the help of exercise and eating healthy, and that helped as well to feel much better at work.(Below, it's me at Bärschenschutzklamm, a great hiking trail close to Graz, Austria)

There are many other things that are worthy to improve as well. Going to massage on a regular basis (of course, that is a pricy thing again, but maybe worth it), getting a good keyboard/mouse and monitor, being happy in life, go outside once in a while, etc. etc. I just named the most important improvements for me personally, and it's up to you to decide what helps you.


Florian Satzinger said...

Hey, 'glad the taking breaks thing works for you!

queenmob said...

Yes, best advice ever!!! Thanks again!

Anonymous said...

Hi Queenmob... Do u have some table recommendations ? Have found something like your electronic desk on the web.....
Greetings Mischa

Anonymous said...

Hi Queenmob,
do u have any recommendation for the desk ... I have searched the web but havent found an electric desk like the one u were talking about in the articel...
thanks in advance

queenmob said...

Mischa: Ich hab Tischlerein angeschireben und gefragt.

An die skandinavische Firma hab ich auch eine mail geschireben, und die haben mir eine Liste von Partnern in Österreich geschickt - also am besten anfragen dort. Die Firma ist halt am teuersten, aber sehr gute Qualität - und der Tisch brauchte 8 Wochen.

queenmob said...

e-mail adresse der Skandinavier: