Author: Mark Anderson
If you’ve been following the news or looking at any social media this week, you can’t have failed to notice that it is Mental Health Awareness Week. With its focus this year being the ways in which nature can help with improving mental health, in a break from our normally technology-related posts, we explore four non-tech ways to make your classroom or office healthier.
Let there be light!
It’s true that you won’t be able to start knocking down walls or putting skylights into your classroom or office, but there are some practical approaches that you can take to improve the light quality. One simple idea is to add a mirror or two in the space. Alternatively, you could switch to higher powered LED lights, which not only save money but improve light quality too. Exploring desk layouts could lead to finding ways to position them that gives better access to natural light. Not so easy if you’ve got fixed desks, but still worth considering!
The air in classrooms and offices can sometimes be quite stuffy, particularly if it’s a small classroom and you have 30 students in there, plus you! One easy way (and certainly recommended in these COVID times) is to have great ventilation by having windows or external doors open to bring a ready supply of fresh air into the classroom.
Another way that has been found to have positive impacts on air quality and learning has been to introduce plants into the classroom and other areas in the school. When researching biophilic design in a Putney school, architect Clare Bowman found during her nine month study that, “the biophilic classroom provides improved air quality and comfort by an average of 10%” – all something to consider! For more on this and how to adopt these approaches, read Bowman’s paper here.
It may seem a tenuous link but bad posture has long been a problem for those working in offices. It’s why we have responsibilities around ergonomic design. Providing chairs suitable for the task, keyboards, wrist supports and more all help – but surely this is physical health and not mental health? Maybe. However, poor posture can increase both physical and mental stress. As bad posture puts extra stress on your back, causing back muscles to work hard, it can therefore increase physical stress and, ultimately, pain. For anyone who has suffered from back pain before, you’ll know just how difficult managing that can be, thus impacting your mental health too!
Best guidance on sitting working at a computer states that you should aim to:
- Keep feet flat on the floor or on a footrest if required
- Try not to cross knees or your ankles
- Create a gap between the back of your knees and your chair
- Have your ankles in front of your knees
- Keep your shoulders relaxed
- Keep your forearms parallel with the floor where possible (desk height vs chair height helps with this)
- Keep your elbows in, forming an “L” shape with your arms
- Keep your back against the chair and, if not easy, use a cushion to fill any gaps. (Lower back support is particularly helpful here).
And, just like the 20/20/20 rule for your eyes, try to not sit for long periods and aim to take a short break every hour you’ve been working at your desk.
I’ve never been one to subscribe to the ideals of ‘feng shui’ but it is certainly true for me at least that having a tidy workspace and area to work helps me to keep my focus.
Keeping workspaces distraction-free and minimal gives you a sense of having more space to breathe, work, focus and concentrate. Simple things such as desk tidies, trays and drawers can help everything to have its place in your work environment.
Taking that thinking one step further, tidying doesn’t have to be just your physical space. Keeping yourself tidy on your computer is another way that I help to avoid interruptions and distractions. One thing I regularly do, for example, is to use simple things such as my calendar to ensure ‘do not disturb’ is on my devices when I’m working and need to focus.
Many commonly used tools such as Microsoft Word have distraction-free modes (View menu – ‘Focus’). Use these to help keep you on task, on track and not distracted. Have a look and see if any of the tools you regularly use have a distraction free mode to help you with your productivity! Our NetSupport School product recognises this too with our Easy, Intermediate and Advanced user modes, where the Easy mode offers our most commonly used tools for ease of access and use without being distracted by the plethora of other options available in the platform.
To sum up
There are so many approaches you can take to be mindful, healthy and be positive and proactive to your mental health, both in and out of work. The best way positive mental health approaches have been explained to me is to take the same care that you would around physical health. You can’t expect to be physically fit if you don’t take care of your physical health through exercise and activity. The same is true with your mental health. Look after it and help it keep healthy with good sleep, diet, exercise – and hopefully some of the approaches shared here will help you in your classroom or office too.
Be safe out there and look after yourself and the children you work with and those that matter to you outside of work, yourself included!