Understand Screen Fatigue and How to Manage it
I have been hearing from many of my clients about on-line digital and screen fatigue. So many people are engaged in online meetings, webinars, studies and so on. When we are not able to show up mentally, emotionally, or even physically for work, because we are fatigued, overwhelmed, or stressed there is a good chance it will affect our overall performance and productivity.
In order to reduce the negative impacts of screen fatigue on ourselves, our teams, our companies, and our overall mind, body-health, let’s take a deeper dive into digital fatigue. We will get to understand the problems as well as working with some solutions and guidance to alleviate the pain points.
Do you know that there’s an under the radar health issue that may affect every single one of us who uses a computer to work with extensively? It is called Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS).
Now more than ever, more people are working online and this condition is more prevalent than ever. It is time to get a better understanding and awareness of CVS.
So let’s start out by defining CVS.
Computer vision syndrome is actually not a very recent problem but is on the rise due to a dramatic increase and usage of computers both at home and at work. To briefly summarize, what happens is that the longer you stare at a computer screen while also holding your body in certain positions, the more likely you are to experience vision problems, eye discomfort, and physical pain.
The most common symptoms associated with CVS are- eyestrain, headaches, blurred vision, dry eyes, and neck and shoulder pain. They are brought on by poor lighting and screen glare. As well as incorrect desk height or seating positions including getting too close to the screen, being too far away, trying to read small text, poor posture, and uncorrected vision problems.
I reached out to Dr. Larry Levin, an Optometrist, to get a real expert’s perspective when it comes to CVS and how it’s impacting us all. I am also including some awareness and solutions you can practice now and make part of your daily routine or company culture to reduce the harm of CVS. After all, we are all striving to improve work performance and morale.
Dr. Larry Levin explains, “CVS or Computer Vision Syndrome is a very broad topic and many people are not aware of its effects when we sit in front of a computer. While it is not a new condition, it is now much more noticeable due to an increase in the concentration and usage of computers and cellphones, as we have been limited in our options for communication.”
In other words, in 2020, the cases of screen fatigue or CVS are going way up. We are all having to find ways to stay connected and to get work done or study without always being physically in the same room. That means more people are facing a different kind of burnout problem-problems brought on by screen fatigue.
In fact, there’s an even more specific problem being examined as we all meet virtually more than ever before called Zoom fatigue. It’s not specific to just Zoom. It has to do with some new emotions and physical symptoms surfacing that seem to be connected to an increase in meeting online for video calls.
- Virtual meetings can’t replicate the communication we experience when in person. That means we are working extra hard to try and read each other’s body language and facial expressions while also being met with technology pauses, breaks in communication, and limits on how long we can talk. We can’t pick up on the usual non-verbal cues. So people are reporting that after or during these video call meetings, they feel sleepy, fatigued, and even irritable.
- We’re also multitasking more. We are on video meetings that last for hours while going through multiple tabs open on our browsers or tending to what’s happening in the house. It affects focus, mood, and energy.
- For anyone who is neurodivergent, such as on the autism spectrum, in-person communication was already challenging enough. Video calls only accentuate those challenges. This can also cause exhaustion and frustration.
In short, our eyes are under a lot of pressure as we stare at our screens for longer periods of time, and our minds and bodies are trying to adjust to virtual meetings. It’s a setup for some potentially stressful symptoms.
So what can we do from a practical perspective
Fix our posture
On a practical side, Dr. Larry Levin explains that Ergonomics are extremely important. “Through my daily examination of patients, I see so often the errors that people are making ergonomically, e.g the screen is too high which may result in a stiff neck as you have to raise your chin to look at the screen. It is difficult to work like that as your neck has very little tolerance. So changing the height of the chair or lowering the screen or table height will improve the position. These are only some of the variables. When we read our blink rate drops. It is so important to keep a good eye position which prevents a dry eye. If you wear glasses, ensure that you have the correct prescriptions to prevent eye strain.”
Following up to Dr. Larry Levin’s comments, here are some ergonomic suggestions:
Ergonomic Suggestions to Implement
- The computer monitor should be placed directly in front of you and centered facing you.
- Place your monitor at a comfortable height so you aren’t lifting your chin or tilting your head down to see.
- Sit back in your chair, with back support, and pay attention to keeping your head looking straight on at your computer and not tilting up or bending forward.
- Ideally, your screen is an arm’s distance away. If that’s not possible because of a laptop, you can go for something similar.
- Mind your posture! Your wrists should be flat, elbows at 90 degrees, you are relaxed but have your back up straight and supported, your head and neck are straight as possible, your head is not jutting out forward, and again, relax.
Mind your lighting
Is your room really dark? Really bright? Is your screen up all the way? Down too low? Have you gone outside to get some natural light? Can you let in natural light vs. using light bulbs? The lighting of your room makes a difference.
Take eye breaks
No matter how much we fix our lighting and posture, the reality is that we just aren’t meant to spend our days staring at these screens all the time. Our minds and bodies need rest, movement, and time outside. Your eyes need to exercise just as much as the rest of your body. Take time away from the screen to go outside and try to focus on landmarks that are very far away. Every day, spend some time staring at mountains, trees, clouds, anything far away. You will literally be working out your eyes. Screen fatigue is real.
While all the practical steps we take to address our posture, lighting, and rest time is so important, it’s not going to create the longer-term solution. What’s really at the root of the fatigue and stress and strain is the work lifestyle and culture we create and cultivate in our lives both personally and professionally.
Now, let us take a look at creating healthier habits from a mind-body perspective
Create a Healthy Work-Life Balance
Perhaps we have transplanted our 40-hour+ traditional workweek to working online from home. People that are now working in their homes may be distracted by their families and other personal matters. Being at home more than likely means that they’re multitasking.
In certain circumstances, they are understanding that they can actually get the bulk of their work done much more efficiently than they did when they were in an office. This is due to less travel time, and with so many fewer meetings and other little tasks and distractions. Many people in these circumstances are now actually spending much more time in front of the screen due to efficiency and completing more work in longer flexible hours. The truth is, not everything needs an online meeting. Many interactions could be summed up in a quick email or message.
On the flip side – there are many people who now have the constant distraction of kids and personal chores interfering in their day. This is then adding extra hours for them to complete their tasks resulting in stress, fatigue, and in many cases frustration. These are extra hours in front of a screen which only adds to the screen fatigue. Establishing healthy boundaries to find a work-life balance that works for you is so important.
We need to keep ourselves in balance both mentally and physically, and continue with or develop healthy habits intentionally that will increase our personal and work productivity
Let go of the belief that we have to clock in and out at certain times
Studies have consistently shown that more work gets done in a shorter workday than in a traditional 8 hour day. People fear to move to this model because they worry that their employers will cut their pay, which may not be sustainable for them either. What if that didn’t have to be the case. Is it not preferable to rather have healthy, happy, and thriving employees and colleagues who get just as much, if not more done?
The less pressure people feel to be at their computers for so long and at certain times of day, the less stress and fatigue everyone is going to experience. I believe that the market does now have proof of concept for remote working. It certainly may now become far a more mainstream work-model in the future
Create a work culture that’s conducive to virtual work and a lifestyle of self-care
More companies are embracing self-care as a company value, and even including that language in their hiring process. They know that burned out employees serve no one. Do you have a self-care plan for yourself that you can practice every single day? How do you take breaks? What breathing techniques do you practice? How do you reduce screen fatigue time?
Learn how to relax. Try activities such as exercise, meditation, and deep breathing. Mindfulness can help focus you in the moment and help stress melt away. Try starting your day with some of these techniques. Use some of your breaks during the day to move your body or rest your mind. You’ll feel better in the moment and be better prepared to deal with the stresses of your day.
These are all great points to start with when coming up with a work culture of self-care
To conclude this blog, important evidence supports the idea that there is a strong connection between wellbeing and productivity. Adopt and incorporate self-care practices including reducing your screen time. You will be taking better care of your health, whilst increasing your work performance and opportunities
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