Rolling lockdowns. Social distancing. Working and learning from home. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has changed just about every aspect of our lives.
Many people around the world are relying more and more on technology to get work done and stay connected with friends and family, but studies suggest that increased use of computers, smartphones, and other digital tech in these pandemic times may be harmful to the health of both body and mind.
As the pandemic drags on, and we’re spending more time online than ever, health professionals are sounding the alarm about the effects of “tech stress.” Here’s a look at five ways to reduce the stresses caused by too much tech. The goal; keep yourself from Zoom-ing your way to ill health in these uncertain times.
What’s Tech Stress and What Can We Do About It?
Professionals, from psychologists to productivity experts, have been talking for years about the effects of too much screen time on mental and physical health. But the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have supercharged those effects since people everywhere have been forced to turn to digital devices to accomplish things that, not too long ago, would have been done in person.
The result? Longer hours sitting in front of computer screens, a greater sense of isolation, and growing anxiety about the state of the world.
The idea of “tech stress” isn’t new, but for author Erik Peper, it takes on new urgency in the era of COVID.
“From an evolutionary perspective, we are designed to alternate sitting, walking, sitting, activities, et cetera. Now we only sit, and it compromises our health,” he says. Technology is largely responsible for the amount of time we spend sitting, either at a computer for work, or streaming video and scrolling through social media posts on a smartphone for fun. And it also affects our brains, effectively wiring them in new ways.
Some research has shown that spending too much time online affects the ability to focus and concentrate. The “always-on” nature of the Internet and social media can be so stimulating that real life seems boring and dull by comparison.
And in a physical sense, blue light from computer screens can stress the eyes and even affect circadian rhythms that govern normal sleep and waking cycles. That’s why people who spend time on smartphones or computers just before bed often have disrupted sleep or have trouble falling asleep.
Social media, too, has been shown to contribute to anxiety and depression. Social media use has risen among most demographic groups during the pandemic, allowing people to stay connected with family, friends, and colleagues.
But psychologists caution that spending too much time on social media can cause negative comparisons with other people and FOMO, or fear of missing out. FOMO causes anxiety when you view or read about the fantastic adventures and experiences other people are having, and you’re not. Some research indicates that people can feel more isolated, not less, when they spend a lot of time on social media sites.
Working at Home Can Cause More Stress
A recent survey reveals that 69 percent of people forced to work at home due to coronavirus restrictions were experiencing symptoms of burnout, stress, and anxiety.
Working from home offers definite benefits, including a flexible schedule, no commute, and the option of working in comfy clothes. But as people struggle to balance work and home life and spend longer hours at the computer than ever before, they’re sleeping less, worrying more. This puts mental and physical health at risk.
Working from home can blur the distinction between work and home life. Without a regular schedule and rituals to signal a shift from work to home, many of today’s new telecommuters find themselves in work mode all the time. You may be answering emails, finishing projects, and conducting Zoom meetings at all hours instead of taking a break for relaxation and time with friends or family.
Homeworkers struggle with distractions and a lack of a dedicated workspace. Sitting at a desk or table all day causes muscle stiffness and circulation problems, and staring at screens late at night strains the eyes and disturbs sleep. Homeworkers worry about finances, productivity, and a lack of free time while keeping up with daily tasks and helping children with online learning.
Too much sitting and computer time can affect our health in many ways, but there’s a long list of things you can do to change that.
Here are five ways to tame the tech stress in your life.
Erik Peper points out that when people sit too long at a computer, their muscles tense and stiffen, and they slump, which makes it hard to breathe properly.
Pay attention to your posture – sit up straight, with feet flat on the floor. Take movement breaks to stretch, walk, or even do a quick 10 to 15 minute workout throughout your day.
It’s estimated that all you need is 11 minutes of exercise to offset a day spent sitting. Consider walking out into nature, too – that can help ground you in the real world and break the hold of technology for a few minutes. Moving the legs activates the “second heart” – the leg muscles that help to pump blood back to the heart.
Set Limits Around Technology.
Some wellness experts recommend putting strict limits on the time you spend using technologies like smartphones. Turn off your phone and exit screens at least half an hour before bedtime. Set specific times for checking email and returning calls and messages, and consider leaving your phone in another room or turning it off before going to bed.
Establish a regular quitting time for work, and make a special effort to do things that aren’t computer-related. Activities involving movement and the hands, such as cooking, playing a sport or musical instrument, or crafts, can help rebalance the entire body.
Take Time to Breathe
Long hours at the computer, especially if you’re slumping or slouching, can compress the diaphragm, so that your breathing becomes shallow.
Set a reminder to stop and take a few deep breaths throughout the workday and work in clothing that’s loose around the waist. A simple breathing practice can be meditative and help to reduce anxiety.
Try Blue Light Blockers for Sleep
You don’t need a prescription for computer glasses that filter out harsh blue light from computer screens. Consider adding a screen filter to your computer and setting phone and tablet screens to night mode after dark to reduce blue light effects on sleep. And when you’re working, take frequent breaks to rest your eyes. Look into the distance and be sure to blink several times.
The many compounds in cannabis, especially cannabidiol, or CBD, can help to quell anxiety and promote relaxation.
Try a CBD tincture or oil, or a few cannabis edibles to calm down after work. Or smoke a relaxing cannabis strain to transition out of work and into “home time” away from devices and the workday's tensions.
From Zoom meetings to virtual school, today’s digital technologies help keep life moving during the pandemic, but they come with risks. Managing “tech stress” is key to staying well in these strange times, with straightforward strategies anyone can do.