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Saturday, April 14, 2018

HOW TO KEEP YOUR WRITING HEALTHY

HOW TO KEEP YOUR WRITING HEALTHY

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


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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