Of the many things to be grateful for during this pandemic quarantine, ranking on the list is all of the tech we have access to. Thank goodness for the Internet, which makes it possible to conduct online counseling, stream exercise classes, allow kids to attend virtual school, and to stay in touch with friends over video chat. But despite this gratitude, the truth is that there are drawbacks to relying so heavily on technology and staring at a screen so much of the day. Here are some of the signs that your body may be experiencing digital overload, paired with suggestions for how to cope with them:
The blue light from the computer screen can have an impact on our circadian rhythm (the natural rhythm that tells our bodies when it is time to sleep) and impacting our bodies’ natural production of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin. The Sleep Foundation suggests that children and teens need a digital curfew, but that advice can be extended to anyone who is spending much of their day on a screen. Try to cut off your screen usage an hour or two prior to bedtime to maximize your chances of getting good sleep.
Tried this but still having significant trouble sleeping? Your issues could be more related to the stress of the current times than just digital overload, in which case cognitive-behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) may be a good option to try. You can choose to get help online, such as through the program Conquering Insomnia or if you would like to work individually with a therapist, Nova Terra Therapy can help.
Are you noticing eye fatigue? Try following the “20-20-20” rule, created by optometrist Dr. Jeffrey Anshel, which advocates that for every 20 minutes you stare at a computer screen, you should try to look away at something 20 feet away from you for a total of 20 seconds. The American Academy of Ophthalmology suggests that taking this kind of break can allow your eyes a chance to refocus and moisten, which may give you the relief you need from digital overload.
If you’re a headache sufferer, including folks who get migraines, then you may be finding that so much time on the computer is a trigger. The culprit may be the blue light that emanates from the screen, though the research supporting this contention is mixed. If you want to see if blue light could be impacting you, however, there are special blue light glasses or screen filters you can try. You may also want to see if making modifications to your physical set-up — like changing your computer chair, the height of your desk, and the angle at which you are looking at your screen — could decrease tension in your back, shoulders, and neck and relieve your headaches.
Challenge Yourself to a Digital Detox
While you may be wedded to your computer for work, that doesn’t mean you have to be for your downtime, too. Challenge yourself to stay off of screens for the weekend and choose instead to be fully present with those around you. Focus on activities that directly engage your senses, like cooking, taking a walk, belting out show tunes, or enjoying a bubble bath. Taking time away from your digital life can help you to relax, refocus, and appreciate the “real” world, rather than succumbing to digital overload.
Pay Attention to Your Body
No matter what your physical complaints — headaches, sleep issues, eye strain, or something else — pay attention to what your body is trying to tell you. None of us is meant to labor for hours and hours staring at a computer screen with no break. With some simple interventions and modifications, you may ease your symptoms and give your body the break it needs.
Elizabeth Brokamp is a licensed professional counselor at Nova Terra Therapy in Burke, Virginia, where she works with adults using EMDR and CBT.