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Well-proven health tips for working and studying at home

The Healthy University @Home dossier gives staff and students tips on how to work healthily at home. The dossier combines practice and science in an easily accessible way, say project coordinator Mieke Cabout and Professor of Clinical Psychology Philip Spinhoven.

It took some getting used to, and that's putting it mildly. Suddenly Mieke Cabout found herself working from home, like almost all staff and students at Leiden University. And that wasn't all: her young children also had to stay at home. So, while work carried on, there were also care responsibilities and home schooling to contend with. 

‘It wasn't exactly easy,’ Cabout says via the phone. ‘Before this, household jobs were more organic, but now we work with a tight planning in order to keep our heads above water. My partner works from 7.00 to 12.00, and I work from 1.00 to 6.00. It's quite a challenge, but this way it should work.'  

Healthy University @Home

Her story isn't unique, Cabout realises as she looks around her. In the past few weeks she has been working on the Healthy University @Home dossier. This online dossier gives staff and students tips about how to work and study healthily at home. There are self-help apps to reduce stress, tips for keeping moving during working hours and advice about staying in contact with colleagues or fellow students. 

‘The idea is to make this a living dossier,' Cabout explains. 'We've already put together lot of information, but staff and students almost certainly have other issues that we can help with. Soon we'll be giving more tips on how you can work while your children also need attention, for example. If there's anything you think is missing, please do get in touch with us.'

A selection from the tips

  • ‘Commute’ to your workplace at home: Use the time you'd normally be in the car or train or on the bike to get some exercise. 
  • Don't sit still for too long: If you need to call a fellow student or colleague, do it standing up or walking.
  • Take care of your mental wellbeing: Use a free e-health app to manage (corona) stress.
  • Think about your sitting posture: If your work table is at the right height, your lower arms should be at an angle of 90 degrees to your upper arms. 
  • Eat healthily: Don't work through lunchtime, and keep to your normal diet. 

Practical but evidence-based

The tips in this dossier are practical, but all the advice is reviewed for its scientific reliability. To do that, Cabout works closely with a number of different researchers, particularly from the Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences. 'There are a lot of apps and tips available online about physical and mental health, but there's no real overview of them all,' says Philip Spinhoven, Professor of Clinical Psychology. 'We've brought the information together and, each from our own area of expertise, filtered out the less sound information. As an example, together with our psychology students, I've made a selection of reliable self-help apps for mental health.' 

Spinhoven was previously chairman of the Student Wellbeing Taskforce that looked at the mental wellbeing of Leiden students. He fears that the corona crisis may exacerbate the problems identified among students. 'A lot of students are concerned about whether their practical assignments, internships, part-time jobs or international trips can take place, and what the effect will be on their studies. These kinds of issues make the already existing uncertainties even greater. And students with health issues have double the problem because their social network also falls away to some extent. You can't just meet up with friends when you want to.'

Student Support Group

One way of resolving this is with a Student Support Group; these are groups of students who meet up online to support one another though this difficult period. The group members help each other achieve their personal goals, which can vary from writing their thesis to keeping up their social contacts. All students at Leiden University can now sign up for these groups. Later this year the four Dutch universities (including Leiden) that are part of Caring Universities will also send out a survey asking students about their mental health and what influence the corona crisis is having.

And Spinhoven himself? He's having to get used to working at home, too. 'Yesterday I took part in my first online PhD ceremony. Sadly, I couldn't wear my academic robes because they're hanging in the Academy Building.  I had to improvise, but everyone did their best to look smart for the camera. Even in the unusual circumstances, it was still a very special day for the candidate.' 

Text: Merijn van Nuland
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