Taking Care of your Body & Mind
If you are anything like me, you probably never go for that bi-yearly check-up you need unless some visa application said you have too. For many solo or micro-entrepreneurs, we consider health check-ups a luxury. We may think from a cost or time perspective that we’ll “ get to it when we get to it”.
Unfortunately, the first time we try and attend to our bodies in such a deliberate manner is often when we actually have some sort of obvious and hard to ignore problem. Here’s one striking example that made such a huge impression on me when I stumbled across it. It is also one of the reasons I felt this topic was important to have: According to this online resource (which I was unable to verify the integrity of), the famous entrepreneur, Henry J. Heinz experienced lifelong illness because of the efforts he made when he was trying to save his business before the age of 31[i].
In all honesty, this was genuinely scary and relatable for me, for the reasons that will be made clear in the rest of this article.
For you to properly provide yourself with the care that you need, you need to know yourself. The previous topic that was explored dealt with psychometrics and its relevance for entrepreneurs. However, there’s a genuine need for you to holistically care for yourself in a way which optimizes your efficacy and quality of life. This includes physical care of our bodies.
What is “ergonomics”, you may wonder and why should I use it? Well:
“Ergonomics (or human factors) is the scientific discipline concerned with the understanding of the interactions among human and other elements of a system, and the profession that applies theory, principles, data and methods to design in order to optimize human well-being and overall system performance.”
I remember learning this at college and then ignoring it in the real world as an entrepreneur. Having once had repetitive stress injuries because of poor ergonomics practices on my part, I cannot stress this enough, especially for budding entrepreneurs. Why? Mainly because we get into work habits with the tools we use and the environments we work in. Once we have these habits, as is the case of most bad habits, they can be very hard to break. In my case, some years ago, I learned this the hard way. I developed a recurring and searing pain in my fingers, elbows, wrists and sometimes back. This was because I took the whole “remote work” preference of mine too far. I was not always working from my workstation. Additionally, this was something I did over long periods of time every day. Eventually, my body decided to let me know using its most effective alarm system: pain! Eventually, I had to rest my body for some time and make a more concerted effort at working from a suitable environment. Though the pain is no longer chronic, I learned my lesson. There’s nothing like being a knowledge worker, having an urgent deadline and feeling a chronic spasm of pain every time you literally lift your finger to do your “knowledge” work. The irony alone is profound. Therefore, I know it is important that you have to have a good work-space for working from, especially if working for over long hours, repetitively. In my case, sometimes, this pain flares up when I’m not practicing what I know. Do not make the mistake I did.
Considerations you can make, ergonomics-wise:
- The type of chair you use if you are a knowledge worker: trust me on this. It is better to have a chair specifically designed for office use because it will provide your body with the support it needs. It is better to get one with an adjustable height pedal because that actually matters too. Let’s also not lie that if it swivels that improves your quality of life too since twirling around can be fun when you are in the throes of procrastination (as an aside… but worth noting still).
- Human-Computer Interaction: Whether you use a mouse or not: again if you spend way too much time on your computer doing repetitive tasks, it’s good to invest in a good mouse or (like me at some point), you may also get some repetitive stress injuries from your fingertips interfacing with your computer, let alone the possibility of being less efficient without one.
- Take regular and timely breaks away from your workstation.
- The correct brightness of your screen matters: I use a free desktop app called F.Lux (https://justgetflux.com/). Often I tell people it makes my “eyes smile”. I recommend it to loved ones every time they complain about their eyes getting sore because of being too long at their computer. Once you install an app like F.lux, it regulates your screen’s brightness automatically ensuring that your eyes do not strain or feel uncomfortable during your work. It is also very useful for those of us that work even at night because the app filters out the “blue light” which is the kind that makes it harder for you to sleep immediately after you have used your device. In the same vein, there are other apps which you can explore for your particular devices. On my mobile phones, I have a different app to do the very same thing and really helps.
None of this is medical advise, if you need professional advice, please speak to someone qualified.
Know How your body responds to food and beverage
Know your allergies, intolerances and find ways to work around those. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve noticed more and more what my body is sensitive too. As a child, I suffered from Bronchitis and Sinusitis every winter. Now that I am older I’ve found out some of the same stuff is still ongoing. For instance: Sinusitis hits me when exposed to dust and smoke. This manifests in flu-like systems and sometimes toothaches and fever if prolonged. Ensuring a lack of exposure to such triggers and medication for when it does happen helps keep me stay productive and feeling good. Know what bothers you and avoid it. If you have the same problem as me, and work in a co-working space, ensure you don’t work near people who are smoking.
Some things may take time for you to figure out. Again, other resources and real medical professionals can provide all the advice you need for that. It took me years to learn all the above. You may come across advise to keep a food diary. This is advisable especially if you are in a country like Malawi and pin-pointing your allergies is not that straightforward at hospitals as in some other countries. Without a food diary though, I learned that my body does not like lactose in milk in large quantities and will make me physically ill if I consume more than 500ml in one sitting. In fact, I lost one and a half work day fairly recently when I “forgot” this. I was literally bed-ridden because I drank milk! Additionally, I used to laugh at an aunt who would need to take a nap every time she consumed wheat-based products. Now, I have become her and get completely lethargic after consuming significant quantities of pasta, bread, and such foods. I hate to admit it but when I was supposed to start writing this topic, I had sandwiches for breakfast and needed to take a nap about 40 minutes afterward. Why? because “wheat”. Had it been I was rushing to meet some deadline at that time it would not have helped my productivity and work commitment. Again, it helps to know your body and work with it.
There are other things like meditation and yoga that others swear by and that I have not had enough experience with to validate the effectiveness for myself. However, over and over again, I come across yet another article touting the very benefits of these. I am currently exploring meditation to deal with anxiety but it is still early days. Additionally, the more obvious activity of exercise and its numerous benefits is another personal care activity that most of us know to be effective. Since I do not want to be a hypocrite about it, I will state that I do not exercise due to lack of discipline but I know I should. We can probably all agree that it is important to start exercising before your body forces you to.
In regards to stress, know when your peak performance is and when it starts to degrade. If you are like me, it is possible you can perform well under pressure until a certain point. After that point it is chaos. By “chaos” I mean, you can honestly see that your quality of work or output is less than normal or counterproductive. Know the point when stress renders you somewhat destructive, ensure that once you reach it, you “bench” yourself from your work, at least until the following day or for a few hours. During that time of “benching” rest, sleep or otherwise pre-occupy yourself with something that is completely unrelated to your work and is stress-free. This works wonders for me and I hope it does for you too.
My body forced me to pay attention to stress recently when it let me know that the heart-beat sound I would hear in my ear when my adrenaline was pumping was actually Tinnitus caused by stress. For close to 2 years I thought I was going deaf (I know, I sound neurotic)… If I had managed to address my stress, and paid attention to the other thus far unnamed issues I noticed, it would never have become an actual thing. Now, I pay attention. Do better than me: stress is not a problem but how we respond to it is.
So much more could be discussed but this is all I have. What are your thoughts? Please leave a comment below.
Want to discover more about Maclean Mbepula? Find her on Linkedin or here on Medium. She’s written 3 books (one in entrepreneurship from a grassroots perspective (“Challenge Accepted) and 2 poetry books which are available for purchase on Amazon or you can sign up and get the kindle versions 100% FREE.