For many Americans, most of the day is spent gazing at one thing and one thing only. No, it’s not your significant other. And it’s not your pet, nor is it a plate of delicious food. It’s a screen.
This screen comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. Between 9 am and 5 pm, it’s likely your office computer screen. During breaks in the workday, it’s your cell phone screen, which you use to check your Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat. Once you get home from work, it’s the TV screen as you tune in to the evening news. Then it’s your personal computer screen as you watch the newest episode of your favorite show on Netflix. After that, it’s your tablet, which comes in handy as you catch up on some much-needed reading. And before you go to bed, you’ll take one more peek at Facebook to make sure you haven’t missed anything.
If you’re like me, this consistent screen staring can cause quite a bit of unforeseen discomfort. Every once in a while during my day-to-day activities, I need to close my eyes or look away from my screen to avoid blurred vision or eye itchiness. One minute I’ll be looking at my computer, and the next I find myself hunched over my desk, resulting in back pain.
These results aren’t altogether surprising. WebMD calls these eye problems “computer vision syndrome,” and claims “between 50 and 90 percent of people who work at a computer screen have at least some symptoms of eye trouble.” And the back problems aren’t shocking, either. A 2013 article in Women’s Health cites data from an American Osteopathic Association study, which surveyed 1,000 office workers and found 62 percent felt pain in their lower back and 31 percent felt pain in their upper back.
While it’s nearly impossible to completely eliminate screen time from your life, there are a number of ways to alleviate the pain it causes.
- Obey the 20-20-20 rule. For every 20 minutes of looking at a screen, take 20 minutes to look at an object that’s 20 feet away. Though this piece of advice is common, Business Insider digs a little deeper into why it’s important: “Your eyes have muscles that help them move and focus on different objects, but if we stare at a screen the same distance away for hours at a time, those muscles have a hard time adjusting once we move again.”
- Don’t work in darkness. This goes for both your environment and the brightness of your computer. According to Vision Source, it’s key to surround yourself with equal brightness, eliminating shadowed or darkened areas around your computer. Keeping your screen’s brightness up “reduces the flicker rate” of the screen, which “can lead to eyestrain and headaches.”
- Watch your posture. Too much time around screens is not only bad for the eyes — it’s bad for one’s posture. Spine-health.com advises staying active to avoid “computer posture.” While at your desk, get up and walk around every once in a while. After work, hit the gym and work on core and upper back exercises. Keeping posture in mind on a daily basis can lead to lifelong changes.
Fortunately and unfortunately, screens have become a part of daily life. Their technology has enabled us to learn and do much more than we ever thought possible, but they’ve also caused myriad unavoidable health issues. Although your life may be screen-centric, remember to occasionally take a step back.