With lockdown keeping many of us at home, we’ve become more reliant than ever on screens for face to face contact with friends and work colleagues. Our phones and laptops also help us stay fit via virtual exercise classes, and to do our shopping online.
Whilst it’s a privilege that we are able to stay well-informed, well-connected and entertained by using our laptops, smartphones and TVs – you may have found that the increase in your screen time is causing you to feel drained.
As we find ourselves in another national lockdown, working from home and evening video catch ups with friends or family may have begun to feel more tiring. If this is the case, then like many people across the country, you may be experiencing screen fatigue.
Below we explain what screen fatigue is, what causes it, and offer tips on how best to manage your screen time.
What is screen fatigue?
You might have heard people mention “screen or computer fatigue” or “zoom burnout” which are both terms used to describe the symptoms that come with spending too much time on smart devices. Symptoms can include tired eyes, sleep problems and a lack of enjoyment in the activities that you use your screen time for.
Although many of us are starting to have interactions in person again, or are heading back out to the shops – many of us are still relying on technology more than usual due to ongoing health concerns. And when we feel like we’re spending more time in front of screens than we do away from them, it can begin to feel tiring.
You may feel as though your different devices are competing for your attention. Perhaps you’ve got a Zoom meeting at 9am with work colleagues, a virtual workout at 11am, and a video call with a friend at 6pm. It can literally feel like you are bouncing from one screen to another. So, it’s completely understandable that by the time you get to your call at 6pm and they are blurry or you’re having problems with your sound, that you may just want to shut the lid of your laptop and give up. Feelings of irritability and just feeling generally fed up, can also be symptoms of screen fatigue.
Why does too much screen time make us tired?
Eye strain and headaches
Many people don’t automatically consider the act of sitting in front of a screen tiring because we are usually sedentary while we do it. But, focussing on screens all day makes your eyes work much harder. For example, have you ever looked at your smartphone for a long period of time and then looked up at something further away in the room and realised that it’s harder to focus on? This is because your eyes are having to make major readjustments to focus at a greater distance. You may also notice that when you’re concentrating on a screen, you are subconsciously holding tension in your forehead and around your eyes, which can lead to headaches and eye strain.
Too much screen time can affect your sleep
Screens can also wreak havoc with our sleep patterns because they emit blue light; short wavelengths which stimulate sensors in the eyes to send signals to your brain’s internal clock. These signals suppress the natural production of melatonin (the hormone which helps you to feel sleepy), and keep us much more alert and much less ready for sleep at night.
Video calling has replaced a lot of face-to-face interaction but is much less natural and can feel like much harder work
Frozen screens, talking over one another, time lags, and feeling self-conscious about seeing yourself on screen during a call, can make video calling feel like much harder work. You may have found video calling a lot more enjoyable at first, but combined with all your other screen time and with not being able to see friends and loved ones in person, it may have started to become tiresome.
Scrolling through news feeds can be emotionally draining
If you’ve been spending more time glued to news websites or scrolling endlessly through your news feeds on your social media accounts such as Twitter, then you may find all the coronavirus-related stories emotionally draining. However, because we’re facing an unprecedented situation, it can also be hard not to do this in an attempt to seek answers and resolve feelings of uncertainty.
8 tips for dealing with screen fatigue
1. Consider making a traditional call to friends, family and/or work colleagues to take a break from your webcam
Just because video calling has become a popular way to stay connected during the pandemic, this doesn’t mean that you can’t swap your webcam for a good old-fashioned phone call or meet up instead.
Video calling is a fun way to keep in touch with family, friends and work colleagues and it adds a much more human element to your interactions. However, wifi connection problems, having to work harder to avoid talking over one another and issues with angles and lighting can also make it frustrating. These issues, although small, can become increasingly tiring to deal with if video calling is your main method of communication.
Arranging to telephone a friend instead of video calling with them, or meet for dinner or a walk in the park, may offer you some relief. Not only will you not have to stare at a screen, but you also won’t have to worry about what you look like and whether your wifi connection is up to the job. It gives you the opportunity to relax a bit and can take some of the pressure of your interactions.
2. Set screen time limits on your smartphone
Habits can be tricky to break, which is why plenty of modern smartphones now offer you the option to set limits on how long you spend engaging with them. It’s easy to while away hours on Facebook or on new sites, bouncing around from story to story, which is why it can be handy to have a helpful reminder when it’s time to come off.
Plenty of smartphones have “screen time” settings, which will allow you to set time limits for apps, set communication limits based on your contacts and schedule downtime away from your screen. If your phone doesn’t have a feature like this – most iPhones will, but some Android phones will not – then you can download a third party app instead. Stay Free and Screen Time are examples of free apps that allow you to monitor and set limits on your phone usage.
3. Get as close to nature as you can
Research has shown that being close to nature can help us to feel more connected to life and make us much happier generally. When we’re stuck in front of screens all day, it can be easy to overlook what’s happening outside and become somewhat disconnected from “real life”. If you’re fed up of looking at your screen, then consider taking a break and doing something that allows you to get as close to nature as possible.
It’s a good idea to get outside for some fresh air at least once a day – even a 10-15 minute walk around the block can work wonders. Fresh air can help you feel much more energised and alert, and may ward off symptoms of screen fatigue.
You could also try learning a few gardening skills or developing some new ones. If you don’t have a garden, then consider growing some plants indoors, or in any small outdoor spaces you may have like a balcony or patio. Having plants or a green area to tend to can help to give you a focus and studies have shown that having plants in your space can raise productivity, reduce anxiety levels and improve our general wellbeing.
If you have a pet, then consider switching off your devices and spending some quality time with them too. Being close to animals is another great way to connect with nature and step outside the technological bubble that many of us have become stuck in. If you have a dog, then why not spend some time teaching them a new trick or playing fetch? Chances are, you’ll feel much better for it, and so will your dog.
4. Take regular breaks, and look for things to do around the house that don’t involve screens
It’s easy to get caught up in your work, an online course or a new Netflix series and forget about everything else – including the need to take a break. We’ve all been there and we often emerge blinking into the daylight several hours later, wondering where the time went.
Try taking a 5-10 minute break every hour and if you can, set aside a section of your day to spend doing something away from your screens such as baking, practicing mindfulness, organising your home, or even having a nap. This will give your eyes a rest and help to reconnect you with the present moment. It’s often when we do this, that we feel most relaxed and at peace.
5. Make sure you are sitting comfortably and that you look after your eyes
If you’re working from home or using a computer regularly, then it’s important to make sure that you have a set-up that will allow you to work as comfortably as possible. For example, your chair should be at the correct height so you can sit with good posture, and you should also have a mouse and keyboard that are comfortable for your wrists. The NHS has produced a helpful guide on how to sit at your desk correctly, which you can find here.
There are also plenty of eye exercises that you can practice at home to maintain and even improve your eye health. Specsavers have created a helpful video that offers tips on how to look after your eye health when you’re working from home. This can be useful even if you aren’t working at home, but regularly use smart devices such as your smartphone or TV.
6. Switch off smart devices at least 30 minutes before bed
If you’re struggling to sleep at the moment, then your screen time could have something to do with it. Sometimes the reason that we struggle to get to sleep or stay asleep is because we have used smart devices like laptops and smartphones too close to bedtime. The blue light that these smart devices emit, can disrupt your brain’s internal clock by suppressing the natural production of melatonin – the hormone which helps us sleep. For this reason, it’s important to switch off all smart devices at least 30 minutes before you head to bed to allow your melatonin levels to rise again.
If this isn’t possible, then it’s still worth checking out your device settings, as many now have a blue light filter which can decrease the amount of blue light being emitted. Blue light also has a tendency to be addictive, so the other advantage of emitting less of it, is that you will hopefully be drawn to your devices less – even during the day.
Struggling to sleep?
7. Set goals and once you’ve achieved what you’ve set out to do, switch off your device
Have you ever logged onto your computer to send an email and before you know it, you’ve got Facebook open, a YouTube video playing and you’re also browsing news sites? The downside of technology is that it’s incredibly distracting as well as being highly addictive.
One way to combat this, is to make a list of the day’s tasks each morning with the aim of ticking them off as you go. Having some structure to your day can help you to stay focussed and stop you from wasting hours on smart devices. Once you’ve logged on to your computer to send that email, you need to be disciplined and not allow yourself to engage with anything else that pops up. Then once you’ve sent it, switch off your laptop and move onto the next thing on your to-do list.
8. Don’t forget to exercise
Exercise can help with many things; boosting your mood and your energy levels, maintaining a healthy weight, reducing your risk of disease – and helping you to combat screen fatigue.
Long periods of sitting down looking at a screen should be balanced out with exercise to keep your strength and fitness up, and your body working well. Exercise is also a great stress reliever and can relieve tension, which can build up when you’re sat for many hours staring at a screen.
I’ve often found that it helps to break up a long day writing articles with a home workout that really gets my heart pumping and allows me to sweat. When I return to my laptop afterwards, I feel much more energised and ready to tackle my next task!
When it comes to exercise everyone is different, so you might find it much more beneficial to do something that incorporates stretching and breathing techniques such as yoga, or perhaps you’d prefer to go out for a walk or run, rather than working out at home. It’s all about finding something that works for you, that you can enjoy. If it starts to feel like a chore, then you’ll be less inclined to do it.
Need a few home workout ideas?
If your smart devices are becoming a source of frustration or irritation for you, then it can be a helpful first step to acknowledge that you’re probably spending too much time in front of screens. Once you’ve done this, you can take steps to start reducing your screen fatigue using the steps above.
You may also have some other tips that you’d like to share with others on dealing with this. We’d love to hear them if so! Join the conversation over on the community forum, or leave a comment below.