Thursday, June 3, 2010

I'm an acronym for work stress!

A few days ago, I decided to google my know...just in case I'd magically become famous and didn't know it. Lo and behold, I discovered that my name is an acronym! Two actually. RULA stands for Restricted Use License Agreement, but more interestingly it stands for Rapid Upper Limb Assessment. No, this has nothing to do with how your romance hero checks out your heroine.

RULA is a tool, developed by Drs. Lynn McAtamney and E. Nigel Corlett, to evaluate a worker's risk for job related injury based on their physical position on the job. They even came up with a worksheet that's used for the evaluation. It's all about ergonomics (like those specially designed chairs), and given that we writers spend endless hours at our computers, it quite important to us. I'm sure at least some of you are familiar with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, back pain, neck pain, or headaches, but what about Computer Fatigue Syndrome?

Computer Fatigue Syndrome isn't some excuse for your muse not cooperating or your characters eloping on you. It's very real, and it's symptoms can include burning/watery eyes, headaches, eyestrain, neck/back pain, and blurred vision.

Neck or back pain is primarily caused by sitting in the wrong position. The popularity of laptops and hand helds complicates matters because people can now lie down or curl up with their computers. Ideally, when sitting at your computer, you shouldn't be cranking your neck back in order to look up at the screen (check out the RULA link above for diagrams). Your neck should be in straight alignment with your spine, and the computer screen should be about 15 degrees below your horizontal line of sight. The screen should also be about 20-28 inches away from your face.

Burning or watery eyes result from a reduced blink rate. Studies have shown that when we work at a computer, or even read for that matter, our blink frequency is reduced. This basically means that we stare, and staring makes our eyes dry out. Burning or stinging can be a symptom of dry eyes. Whoa! Wait a minute! How can dry eyes be watery? I know it sounds paradoxical, but it's because of reflex tearing. We gush out more tears than our lids can hold in order to compensate for the dryness, hence overflow.  Remedies include consiously remembering to blink a the first sign of symptoms, keeping a bottle of preservative-free artificial tears by your work station, taking breaks and wearing the right glasses (we'll get to those next).

Eyestrain, headaches and blurred vision result from a number of things. Glare from windows and overhead lights is a big culprit. Just think about how much harder it is to see through your car windshield with raindrops and headlight glare in your way. Try not to sit with your back to a window, or at least close the blinds. Also, adjust your screen brightness to your comfort level. Overhead fluorescents are a bugger, but if you can't do anything about them, try an anti-glare screen (clip-ons used to be available...not sure now) or adjust your screen angle a bit.

Wearing the proper glasses prescription (if needed) is a must. Pixels are a lot harder for the human eye to focus on than regular print. Our eyes have to work a lot harder to maintain proper focus at a computer. As a result, we can develop pseudomyopia (BTW, this can occur with any near work in some folks). This is where our eye muscles work so hard to focus up close, that they cramp or get stuck. When we look up at a distance, everything is blurred because our eye muscles need time to relax and refocus for far away. It's kind of like sitting with your legs tucked under you for too long and then not being able to stand on them for a few minutes. Taking a 15 sec to a minute break to focus on a distant object every 30 minutes or so, helps a lot. Consider it a moment to reflect out the window or to gaze at your inspirational adonis pin-up across the room. A pair of computer glasses could help take some of the load off your eyes too. An eye exam would determine if you need them or not. For those of you wearing trifocals or progressives, that proper sitting postion I talked about earlier will be extra important.

I know I'm gearing this toward writers, but don't forget about your kids. Ever see them rubbing their eyes or looking like they've just woken up when they finally put their PSP down? They need breaks and/or eye exams too!

Happy tapping!


  1. Great advice, Rula. I know I need to do more of the looking away from the screen. I get so fixated on what I'm doing I'm sure I forget to blink. I don't get headaches, but I know when I need a break. My contact lenses feel like they're fused to my eyeballs!

  2. Ahhh yes. Dry contacts present a whole slew of other issues. My main problem is blurry vision when I look up. I have a pair of glasses to help, but I forget to put them on. I need to practice what I preach! :)