6 Surprising health risks of online teaching

6 Surprising health risks of online teaching

By Claudia Jackson 

On the face of it, online teaching seems a safe and somewhat cushy number when compared to other occupations. We`re not fighting fires, cleaning the sides of skyscrapers, or being battered by the ocean in search of crayfish. But working as an online teacher isn’t entirely risk-free when it comes to health. Here are six common health effects and what you can do to minimise them. 

Cardiovascular effects

Sitting down for extended periods of time has been proven to have a significant detrimental impact on our health. Studies by Harvard health Publishing have shown that sitting for more than eight hours a day poses a risk to health on a par with obesity and smoking. 

What you can do. 

    • Take a break from sitting every 30 minutes. Even a few stretches or a quick walk around your home will add up over time. 
    • Aim for 30-40 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise per day to offset all that sitting. 
  • Try teaching standing up or vary between standing and sitting positions. You can buy height adjustable desks for this purpose or improvise with a kitchen counter or an ironing board! 

Musculoskeletal effects. 

Another effect of sitting at a desk for extended periods of time can be muscular pain especially in the neck and lower back. A study conducted in Italy during the pandemic found that 41.2% of at-home workers reported lower back pain, while 23.5% reported neck pain. 

What you can do. 

  • Ensure you and your computer are ergonomically aligned- your computer should be positioned about arm’s length away from you with your hips and knees at a 90-degree angle. 
  • Use a lumbar back support to reduce strain on your lower back.
  • Don’t teach from a sofa or bed.
  • Get up and walk around frequently (at least every 30 mins) 

Eye Strain

Eye strain is another common complaint amongst those who spend several hours a day staring at a computer screen. It is caused by two main factors. Firstly, when we look at things close up, our eyes use different muscles than when we look at things further away and prolonged-time looking at a screen strains these muscles. The second factor is the blue light emitted from our computer screens that makes our eyes work harder to focus. The long-term effects of blue light aren’t fully known but could possibly range from sore eyes and headaches to disturbed sleep and possibly retinal damage. 

What you can do

  • Follow the 20-20-20 rule. Every 20 minutes, look at an object at least 20 metres away for 20 seconds.
  • If headaches and sore eyes are a problem, try blue light glasses to filter out the harmful rays. 
  • If your eyes feel tired and sore at the end of the day, an eye lubricant, available from your local pharmacy, can help. 

Mental Health Effects

As much as there are definite perks to working from home (see my previous blog post), avoiding the daily commute and annoying colleagues stealing your lunch does come at a cost. Humans are social animals and people working from home are prone to feelings of loneliness and isolation. There are also the knock-on effects of not having an office routine and work and home have a tendency to blur into one.

What you can do

  • Keep clear boundaries. Have a separate workspace and defined working hours.
  • Go outside. If you can get out of the bustle of the city and spend some time in nature all the better as this has been proven to reduce depression and anxiety. 
  • Make time for social connections. Call or message a friend. Even better meet a friend for lunch or a coffee. Make the effort to socialise in your free time. 

Obesity

This one is kind of a no-brainer. Removing even small periods of activity; the walk to the bus, going out to buy lunch and moving around the office all add up and when combined with the lack of routine, disordered eating, and the dangerous proximity of the fridge, the pounds can pile on before you know it. 

What you can do

  • Get into a routine that incorporates exercise and healthy meals into your day.
  • Drink plenty of water. Dehydration often presents as hunger.
  • Don`t keep unhealthy snacks and junk food in the house.
  • Some teachers swear by sitting on a fitness ball while teaching as it increases dynamism and energy while providing a great workout for your core, however, prolonged sitting on a ball has been shown to put a strain on your hip flexors, so its best to vary between a chair, a ball (and standing) if you can. 

Disrupted Sleep

This one depends a lot on your time zone and that of your students, but if you are frequently having to work through the night or get up at some ungodly hour to teach students on the other side of the world, it can have a negative effect on your health. Our bodies have an internal sleep-wake cycle known as the circadian rhythm that is largely guided by light and dark. When we disrupt this cycle and try to stay awake when our bodies are telling us to sleep and vice versa, it can cause problems such as drowsiness, irritability, weakened immunity, increased risk of accidents, and even substance abuse. 

What you can do

  • Try to maintain the same sleep-wake schedule even on your days off to ensure sleep consistency and good quality of sleep.
  • Avoid using alcohol to help you fall asleep as this reduces the quality of sleep and can become habit-forming. 
  • Coffee can definitely help you feel more awake, but don’t overdo it (4 cups a day is considered a safe amount)  and watch the extra calories if you take sugar and cream. Remember to stop drinking coffee (or other caffeinated drinks) at least 3 hours before you go to sleep.
  • Short naps during the day (10-20 minutes) can be beneficial without making you feel groggy. 

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Is Online English Teaching the best job in the world?

I never wanted to be a teacher. My background was in healthcare, first as a nurse and later as a medical translator where long hours, heavy workloads, late nights, and early mornings were the name of the game. Then life and circumstances brought me to Spain, and without the necessary language skills to continue in my chosen field, I had to start again.

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