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How to Keep Your Writing Healthy

Can writing damage your health? Here's how to avoid longterm issues.

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ARE YOU A HEALTHY WRITER?

We talk a lot about strategies for growing your audience and book sales, but every now and again I like to take a step back and focus on some of the more personal issues.

We’ve heard from writers struggling with creative block, lack of confidence, depression, abuse – and I personally think it’s just as important to talk about health and psychological issues as it is discussing the latest marketing campaigns.

After all, your life isn’t one big launch plan. This isn’t the stuff you talk about with your friends and family. Your health comes first.

And while being an author isn’t exactly renowned for being a dangerous profession, if you’re a full-time keyboard-jockey (or you’re heading that way) there are some important health factors to take into account.

The good news is – if you prepare ahead of time, you can drastically reduce the chances of falling foul of any physical problems that might head your way. And if you’re currently struggling, it’s not too late to turn things around.

With more on this – including some practical steps you can take to improve your health as a writer (or reduce any current discomfort and heal) we’re talking to Kristin Gleeson – an author, harpist, and former librarian – who has pretty much spent her entire life engrossed in writing (and everything that brings with it).

Take it away, Kristin…

KEEPING MY WRITING HEALTHY

by Kristin Gleeson

Can writing damage your health? It can, if you’re not careful. It was a lesson I learned the hard way, when my body seized up almost overnight. But you don’t have to go through what I did if you approach your writing in a healthy and informed manner.

I always loved to write. I enjoyed writing essays and reports for school, especially if it was about a book I read. At home, I started writing stories when I was about eight. In college I majored in history, with English as a minor, both notorious for all the writing involved. History became my career path and I became an administrator of a historical society (after a brief detour in nursing in the UK).

My work involved a great deal of writing taking the form of planning documents, reports, journal articles and workshop materials. At home I wrote short stories for pleasure and essays for my continuing graduate studies.

It was when I was writing my Ph.D. dissertation that things came crashing down on me. During the day I would work hard at the office, typing on the computer. Most days, I would type administrative tasks for hours, while at home I was writing and typing my dissertation for two or more hours. It was too many hours seated without moving.

 

 

Then, when I went to a conference…

…where I was expected to sit in meetings that went on past midnight in over air conditioned rooms, my body rebelled. I was okay on the flight home and duly went to bed exhausted, but when I woke up in the morning my right leg could hardly bear my weight and my right arm was in agony. On top of that, I could feel pins and needles shooting from my fingertips along the shoulder blades down to my toes.

I was always a healthy person. I was never very sick, I ate sensibly and walked a fair bit each day on my journey to work. I took my health for granted. I also took my energy levels for granted. I had my goals and I’d set them and wasn’t going to allow anything to stop that. I had no idea my body would object. It was a real wake up call for me.

Faced with the pain and lack of mobility I did what my natural instincts told me to do. I researched my problem. As a former nurse and person who has read widely about various alternative treatments, I knew I didn’t want a solution that would involve medication or surgery. And I wanted to tackle the causes, not just the symptoms.

Initially, I did some stretches and massaged my hip and my arm, which helped enough just to get me out of the door and to work. I hoped that exercise would help loosen me up and get the blood flowing. The pain and tingling were still there and my hip still only allowed me to limp along. I needed to do more.

 

 

I discovered in my research…

…that it would take much more than just stretching and walking and a bit of massaging. I learned that I had a combination of sciatica, signs of carpal tunnel syndrome and some muscle spasms caused by sitting too long, typing in bad positions without breaks. The muscles never relaxed, so blood flow to the areas was restricted and that’s where the pain and pins and needle feelings came in.

Two things helped me recover. The first was a few treatments of reflexology that my sister-in-law gave me. That helped with the movement in my leg, especially, and the pain at my hip lessened.

The most important treatment that helped me was Myofacial Trigger Point Pain Therapy. I discovered that online. There was a terrific website that gives detailed instructions that gave descriptions of symptoms, causes and then treatment.

Eventually, I bought the book by Clair Davies. I bought the second edition, but it’s in its third now. The current website is https://www.triggerpointbook.com and it’s not as detailed, but there are others out there now that are just as good.

Myofacial trigger points are “tiny contraction knots that develop in a muscle when it is injured or overworked.” According to Davies and others, the part of a muscle fibre that actually does the contracting is a microscopic unit called a sarcomere. Contraction occurs in a sarcomere when its two parts come together and interlock like fingers.

Normally, when a muscle is working, its sarcomeres act like tiny pumps, contracting and relaxing to circulate blood through the capillaries that supply their metabolic needs. When sarcomeres in a trigger point hold their contraction, blood flow essentially stops in the immediate area. The resulting oxygen starvation and accumulation of the waste products of metabolism irritates the trigger point. The trigger point responds to this emergency by sending out pain signals.

 

 

In the case of my arm and hand…

…where at first glance it might seem I had carpal tunnel syndrome, reading deeper I realised it was more likely a myfacial trigger point issue. The pain, numbness and tingling and burning would generally be diagnosed as carpal tunnel syndrome which is blamed on the compression of the median nerve as it passes through the carpal tunnel in the wrist on its way to the fingers and hands.

Surgery is often the treatment along with cortisone shots and other medication. But other doctors think that myofascial trigger points (tiny contraction knots) in the scalene muscles of the front of the neck are almost always involved in causing pain and other abnormal sensations in the hands. This sounded very plausible and fit with my desire not to have surgery or powerful medications with no absolute promise of cure.

The treatment for both my leg and my arm involved massaging in a particular way several times a day points on the neck, shoulder and arms, hips and buttocks area. In the case of the back and the buttocks I rolled around on the floor with a tennis ball (actually now I use a slither- Irish ball used in hurling).

Gradually the knots are broken up and the blood flows through. Improvement was in a few days and continued over the next week or so. The treatment can be done by a physiotherapist if you can’t manage it on your own, but with the help of my husband I was able to manage it on my own.

 

 

Some years later…

I was also taught a therapeutic move used by a sports physiotherapist to use when the hip seizes up suddenly . He said to brace yourself in a doorway and bend the injured leg with the foot resting across the straight knee like a ballet dancer about to do a turn. Then slowly bend the standing leg and hold it for the count of 20. That opens up the hip joint to allow maximum blood flow. Do it a few times a day if the hip is really bad and you’ll see a massive improvement.

Though the treatment worked wonders I knew it couldn’t stop there. My body had told me loudly and clearly I couldn’t take it for granted. I must respect my physical limits and take steps to keep it in a healthy working order.

The treatments I had used were for active symptoms. I didn’t want my body to get to the state where I had the symptoms. I had to step back and evaluate my whole day and how I spent it physically and emotionally (the two are tied up).

 

 

Best Tips…

Reading, research and talking with some health care professionals led me to conclude that I should ensure that when I spent time at the computer I should:

  • Have the correct posture- straight back, feet on the floor straight in front of me
  • Have the best ergonomic support in furniture and aides – for me it involves a proper office chair, wrist support for writing and for the mouse. Some people opt for standing desks, or a therapeutic ball to sit on. Find what works.
  • Take frequent breaks- stand up every 15 minutes and stretch- take a break away from the computer every 2 hours for a cup of tea or something.
  • Ensure eyes get exercised every 15 minutes. The computer screen strains the eyes, though we may not be aware of it. So when I stretch I move my eyes side to side, up and down, then squint them shut a few times and finally look out of the window to the distance.
  • Do a brief yoga workout that focuses on my back, my arms, my hips.
  • Walk for a half hour every day at least. It’s a wonderful time to clear the head or come up with story ideas, go through scenes or any other aspect of writing and publishing.
  • Take a break between each book/project to refresh myself.
  • Don’t spend time all day at the computer every day. Big chunks of time either in the evening or the afternoon devoted to other things, if possible.

These are the guidelines I try to live by, but I’m human and I have gone astray more than once in those 20 years since that time. I am a worker, I’m goal driven and I have to remind myself all the time that though the mind has all these ideas and jobs it wants to do, I must treat my body’s limitations with respect, especially as I get older and my body is less able to throw off all the pressures and stresses of everyday life.

By respecting and treating my body with care, I hope to keep writing for many many more years to come.

 

Originally from Philadelphia, Kristin Gleeson lives in Ireland, where she works as a librarian, plays the harp, sings in an Irish choir and runs a book club for the village library. She holds a Masters in Library Science and a Ph.D. in history, and was an administrator of a national archives, library and museum in America. She has also worked as a public librarian in America and Ireland. She is a B.R.A.G. medallion Honoree. Find out more about Kristin here.

 

And now we want to hear from you: How do you stay healthy when writing? Have you had to deal with any health issues as a result of your work? Leave a comment!

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Giselle RoederKim pULLENTathDr. AudreyAnnAlma Caballero Recent comment authors
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Giselle Roeder
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Giselle Roeder

Like your ideas. I have trouble with circulation in my legs when sitting too long at the computer. Being a Hydro-Therapist, I know about water treatments. The BEST of all is the alternate footbath. Two large pails in the bathtub, fill one with COLD water, the other with hot water. Put your legs into the HOT water for 5 minutes, change over to the COLD water for 15-20 seconds until the water “bites” you, Back into the HOT for another 5 minutes, and another 15-20 seconds to the COLD. Dry feet and legs, put long socks (knee-high) on, go walking… Read more »

Kristin Gleeson
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Kristin Gleeson

I’m not familiar with that Giselle. It sounds interesting and a good addition to the therapeutic regime. I’ll have to try it.

Giselle Roeder
Guest
Giselle Roeder

Like your ideas. I have trouble with circulation in my legs when sitting too long at the computer. Being a Hydro-Therapist, I know about water treatments. The BEST of all is the alternate footbath. Two large pails in the bathtub, fill one with COLD water, the other with hot water. Put your legs into the HOT water for 5 minutes, change over to the COLD water for 15-20 seconds until the water “bites” you, Back into the HOT for another 5 minutes, and another 15-20 seconds to the COLD. Dry feet and legs, put long socks (knee-high) on, go walking… Read more »

Tath
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Tath

Yoga is a definite must – both my writing and my health improved immediately when I began a regular practice! its easy when starting out to not understand how debilitating sitting and a sedentary lifestyle can be. You think – wow – I finally get to write full-time and then your health starts taking a nose-dive because your body is made to MOVE and suddenly does MUCH LESS of that than at any time before in your working life. Give yoga a try – it’s made all the difference for me!

Kristin Gleeson
Guest
Kristin Gleeson

Yoga is an integral part of my daily regime. I think I would seize up without it. I’m with you 100%!

Tath
Guest
Tath

Yoga is a definite must – both my writing and my health improved immediately when I began a regular practice! its easy when starting out to not understand how debilitating sitting and a sedentary lifestyle can be. You think – wow – I finally get to write full-time and then your health starts taking a nose-dive because your body is made to MOVE and suddenly does MUCH LESS of that than at any time before in your working life. Give yoga a try – it’s made all the difference for me!

Kim pULLEN
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Kim pULLEN

I was a high school English teacher for several years before I “retired” to write full-time. Even though I continued teaching adult fitness (yoga, Pilates, body sculpting, and Zumba), I was shocked at how easily I gained weight once I exchanged sitting at my computer for walking back and forth in my classroom all day! I’ve had to change my eating habits and be more aware of my writing breaks and regular walking. And with all the sitting I do, I now make a habit of visiting my chiropractor once a month to make sure my hips and spine are… Read more »

Kristin Gleeson
Guest
Kristin Gleeson

I think we don’t realize how much we do each day until we change our jobs and doing something that involves sitting all day. Sitting definitely affects us in many many ways that aren’t healthy and you are so right to be careful with diet as well as other aspects.

Kim pULLEN
Guest
Kim pULLEN

I was a high school English teacher for several years before I “retired” to write full-time. Even though I continued teaching adult fitness (yoga, Pilates, body sculpting, and Zumba), I was shocked at how easily I gained weight once I exchanged sitting at my computer for walking back and forth in my classroom all day! I’ve had to change my eating habits and be more aware of my writing breaks and regular walking. And with all the sitting I do, I now make a habit of visiting my chiropractor once a month to make sure my hips and spine are… Read more »

Dr. AudreyAnn
Guest
Dr. AudreyAnn

Hello. This was very informative. I have always been in the administrative field, sitting, typing, reading etc… I do have issues with legs and carpel tunnel. But my biggest issues are with my eyes. Dry eyes and I also had surgery to repair a torn retna. As a result my eyes burn and feel like they are full of sand. I have to keep drops and I have to stop and give my eyes a break. I also have problems after sundown. I try to type about three or four hours and I also hand write when the computer is… Read more »

Kristin Gleeson
Guest
Kristin Gleeson

Hi Audrey Ann. Eyes are particularly sensitive and we don’t even realize it. My mother suffered in the way you do and sadly had to give up reading books. I try to be conscious of my own aging eyes and blink often at the computer (we don’t do it often enough when we watch TV, read and work on the computer) and do the exercises mentioned. It seems to help a bit.

Dr. AudreyAnn
Guest
Dr. AudreyAnn

Hello. This was very informative. I have always been in the administrative field, sitting, typing, reading etc… I do have issues with legs and carpel tunnel. But my biggest issues are with my eyes. Dry eyes and I also had surgery to repair a torn retna. As a result my eyes burn and feel like they are full of sand. I have to keep drops and I have to stop and give my eyes a break. I also have problems after sundown. I try to type about three or four hours and I also hand write when the computer is… Read more »

Alma Caballero
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Alma Caballero

Infinitas gracias! Tuve todos esos problemas y ahora me doy cuenta de su procedencia. A todo lo suyo, agrego la natación. Eso me ayudó muchísimo.

Alma Caballero
Guest
Alma Caballero

Infinitas gracias! Tuve todos esos problemas y ahora me doy cuenta de su procedencia. A todo lo suyo, agrego la natación. Eso me ayudó muchísimo.

Val
Guest
Val

Important information, but the sunny side for me is that if I had stayed healthy I wouldn’t now be a published author. 😀 When a freak accident left me bed-bound and going stir-crazy, writing my first book saved my sanity. Take care of your health, mental and physical, so you can write all those stories insisting on being told.

Val
Guest
Val

Important information, but the sunny side for me is that if I had stayed healthy I wouldn’t now be a published author. 😀 When a freak accident left me bed-bound and going stir-crazy, writing my first book saved my sanity. Take care of your health, mental and physical, so you can write all those stories insisting on being told.

Kristin Gleeson
Guest
Kristin Gleeson

That’s a real twist Val, and I’m glad there were some positives from being bed bound. It seems to have pointed you towards valuing also importance of health and supporting your physical and mental well being. Hope your career progresses without any more bed bound episodes though. 🙂

Cary Richards
Guest
Cary Richards

Great stuff!
I’ve worked hard to fix my posture and try my best to write in two-hour blocks. I work as hard as I can for two hours, then I get up stretch, walk, do sit-ups or something else physical. can’t fo the all day on the computer anymore.
Thanks,
Cary Richards
http//infostack.io

Cary Richards
Guest
Cary Richards

Great stuff!
I’ve worked hard to fix my posture and try my best to write in two-hour blocks. I work as hard as I can for two hours, then I get up stretch, walk, do sit-ups or something else physical. can’t fo the all day on the computer anymore.
Thanks,
Cary Richards
http//infostack.io

Kristin Gleeson
Guest
Kristin Gleeson

That’s the way to approach it Cary. I’m so glad that you approach it in that manner and I’m sure it will reap benefits in the future too.

John Peters II
Guest
John Peters II

Great suggestions. What has really helped me is using speech recognition. Every PC has Windows speech recognition automatically installed. I have been using it over a year now and had made a tremendous difference in my hand use and pain. I recently purchased Dragon speech recognition and am still trying it out.

John Peters II
Guest
John Peters II

Great suggestions. What has really helped me is using speech recognition. Every PC has Windows speech recognition automatically installed. I have been using it over a year now and had made a tremendous difference in my hand use and pain. I recently purchased Dragon speech recognition and am still trying it out.

Kristin Gleeson
Guest
Kristin Gleeson

Hi John, Speech recognition is a great support for some writers. I know there have been many authors who have used it really successfully, among them Joanna Penn. I confess I have been tempted and may try it some time this year.

Sophie Kisker
Guest
Sophie Kisker

As I write I’m sitting on the couch recovering after a total hip replacement surgery. I’d never had an issue until I had 2 weeks off of work last September and gleefully sat in my office for days on end, writing without interruption. Don’t know exactly how it happened, but the pain started abruptly and culminated in an inability to walk by Christmas, “no cartilage left – bone on bone”, and finally this surgery. I’m looking forward to getting up and moving and I will never take walking for granted again, even if I have to interrupt writing to do… Read more »

Kristin Gleeson
Guest
Kristin Gleeson

So sorry to hear that you suffered from that hip issue. Sounds like you learned the hard way that sitting can have health implications, or at least bring them to a critical state. Hope your recover is speedy. Perhaps the exercises here will help support the prevention of anything further.

Sophie Kisker
Guest
Sophie Kisker

As I write I’m sitting on the couch recovering after a total hip replacement surgery. I’d never had an issue until I had 2 weeks off of work last September and gleefully sat in my office for days on end, writing without interruption. Don’t know exactly how it happened, but the pain started abruptly and culminated in an inability to walk by Christmas, “no cartilage left – bone on bone”, and finally this surgery. I’m looking forward to getting up and moving and I will never take walking for granted again, even if I have to interrupt writing to do… Read more »

Penelope Silvers
Guest
Penelope Silvers

Hi Kristin, Great article! I started going to the YMCA for the Livestrong Program after my breast cancer treatments ended. I went through four months of strength training, cardio, and some tai chi and stretching. I had no idea how out of shape I was! Now I make sure to go for chair Yoga (the chair is mainly a prop), and have learned deep breathing and other moves I can do while writing. It is so calming! I try to be aware to get up and move every so often. Throw in a load of laundry, or fix a cup… Read more »

Penelope Silvers
Guest
Penelope Silvers

Hi Kristin, Great article! I started going to the YMCA for the Livestrong Program after my breast cancer treatments ended. I went through four months of strength training, cardio, and some tai chi and stretching. I had no idea how out of shape I was! Now I make sure to go for chair Yoga (the chair is mainly a prop), and have learned deep breathing and other moves I can do while writing. It is so calming! I try to be aware to get up and move every so often. Throw in a load of laundry, or fix a cup… Read more »

Kristin Gleeson
Guest
Kristin Gleeson

Hi Penelope,
Glad you enjoyed the article. You seem to have a done a marvelous job of supporting yourself through a terrible experience and making yourself fit and healthy for life. Those are wonderful exercises and techniques and reminds me to do a variety of calming things to help the physical and mental stress.

Kristin Gleeson
Guest
Kristin Gleeson

Hi Penelope,
Glad you enjoyed the article. You seem to have a done a marvelous job of supporting yourself through a terrible experience and making yourself fit and healthy for life. Those are wonderful exercises and techniques and reminds me to do a variety of calming things to help the physical and mental stress.

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