7 Ways to Beat the Pain From Digital Device Overuse
Computers, tablets, and smartphones have added a whole new dimension to our lives—we have instant access to a whole world of information and the ability to communicate with others no matter where they are. In this era of COVID-19, digital devices have allowed us to learn and work remotely, reducing our risk of viral transmission. But digital technology also comes at a cost: increased risk of pain, depression, and insomnia, among other disorders.
Digital devices have been essential to work, school, and social gatherings during the pandemic, but we can’t ignore the effect these devices have on our health.
The Effect of Excess Screen Time on Our Health
Our bodies are made for movement—hunching over a computer or smartphone for long periods of time strains and fatigues our whole body. From physical strain on our eyes, backs, and shoulders to mental and emotional effects like increased stress, depression, loss of productivity, and work-related insomnia, the overuse of digital devices takes us away from what we need to feel healthy.
We are also social beings who need meaningful, intimate contact with others. We evolved in a natural environment and are restored and enriched by connecting with nature. While these restorative activities have been put on hold in the pandemic, finding ways to safely connect with others and spend time outside, away from our devices is important for our mental and emotional health.
The following are seven ways you can address physical and mental fatigue from excess screen time:
1. Move Throughout the Day
Many of us are still adjusting to working and learning remotely. While our workplaces and schools gave us opportunities to move from room to room, at home we’re sitting even more than usual. It’s important to take time in the day to move, even if it’s just a few moments.
About every 20 minutes, stand up and move your body. Stretch, do a quick dance, or take a walk around the block. Stretching and moving are quick energizers that increase your circulation and will also relax those muscles that you tense constantly when working at a desk. Less muscle tension and more energy means better focus and productivity, too!
2. Be Mindful of Blinking
A major problem with excess screen time one digital devices is eye strain. When looking at screens, our blinking rate decreases significantly, contributing to dry eyes and eye strain. You’ve probably had a headache at some point from spending too much time in front of the smartphone, computer, or television.
To combat eye strain, be mindful of how much you’re blinking. A good way to address this is by blinking every time you click on a hyperlink, switch tabs or applications, or after you finish typing a paragraph. Additionally, relax your eye muscles from time to time by looking away from the screen and focusing on an object that’s far away, like a tree outside your window or a photo on the wall across the room.
3. Take a Break Before Bed
Many of us are connected constantly—with a phone in our pocket or a smartwatch on our wrist. This translates to bedtime for most of us where we read or scroll on our devices right before bed. However, studies show this can make falling asleep more difficult, and in a time of increased device usage, putting the phone down before bed is more important than ever.
Our phones, tablets, handheld gaming devices, and more emit blue light, which has been proven to interfere with the production of melatonin—the hormone which tells your body it’s time to sleep. Using these devices right before bed (or even in bed as you’re trying to fall asleep) makes sleep more difficult. Take a break from screen time for at least one hour before bed. You’ll sleep better, which improves your mood and helps with your focus, productivity, and overall physical and emotional health.
4. Watch Your Posture
Poor posture can cause pain and contribute to overuse injuries and strains. Make sure your computer and workspace is ergonomically friendly to encourage good posture. Your workspace setup should conform to your body—not the other way around. Take a look at your workspace and make sure of the following:
- Your keyboard should be positioned so your forearms are a few inches above your waist
- The top of your screen should be around eyebrow level, causing your eyes to naturally look slightly downward at the screen
- Your knees should be bent at a ninety-degree angle and feet flat on the ground
Using a laptop or smartphone often causes us to look down, straining our neck and back. Additionally, chairs and desks at the wrong height for your body can add strain throughout our body. An external keyboard and laptop stand (or a few books if you’re on a budget) can help you achieve a body-friendly workspace.
5. Take a Breather
When we work on electronic devices, we tend to breathe more shallowly, which increases anxiety and our heart rate. To counteract this, take regular “breathers.” A deep breath can help lower your heart rate, clear your head, and help you refocus. Follow these steps:
- Breath in slowly and deeply
- Inhale for five seconds
- Hold for one second
- Exhale for six seconds
- Repeat three times
This restores a more relaxed breathing rhythm and helps reduce anxiety and stress.
6. Focus on the Moment
Many of us check our phones almost constantly, even when we’re engaged in social activities with loved ones or working on something, either for work or play. This harms our relationships, our productivity, and our attention. When you’re spending time with someone or working on a task, turn your phone off or set it to Do Not Disturb or Airplane Mode, and give the people and projects you care about your undivided attention.
7. Fight Fatigue with Light Therapy
Many of us already feel the effects of increased digital device use in muscle and joint strain as well as increased insomnia, stress, depression, and anxiety. To help combat the pain you’re already feeling, consider trying red and near-infrared light therapy. This emerging treatment helps the body’s overall immune system and fight against oxidative stress, caused in part by the increased levels of stress in our lives today. Light therapy, also called photobiomodulation therapy (PBMT), has also been shown to reduce and even eliminate back and neck muscle pain.
If you’ve been feeling more exhausted lately, despite going to fewer places and doing fewer activities, you’re not alone. Fatigue is a common result of excess stress and depression. Even though we may not be physically doing as much, we still feel tired because our brains are under stress navigating the pandemic world. Fatigue can be intensified by the vicious cycle of excessive stress hormones, which cause damage to our cell’s energy generators—the mitochondria.
How Light Therapy Helps Fight Fatigue at the Cellular Level
When we’re under prolonged stress, the mitochondria (power house) in our cells can produce excess nitric oxide, which competes with oxygen, thereby reducing energy production. If our cells aren’t producing enough energy (ATP) through a process called cellular respiration, the cells simply cannot perform adequately. In turn, this causes fatigue, inflammation, and multiple disease states. In fact, excess stress is a risk factor for many diseases, including heart disease, obesity, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and depression.
The good news is that light, at specific wavelengths, is readily absorbed by the mitochondria of the body’s cells, which activates metabolic energy processes. Red and near-infrared wavelengths of light promote ATP production, which boosts energy transport within cells, leading to increased cell proliferation. This boost in the body’s natural healing cycle, helps reduce inflammation, and promotes healing of damaged tissue.
Light therapy can help reduce pain and inflammation from muscle and joint strain throughout the body as well as fight fatigue, help improve mood, and reduce feelings of depression and anxiety.
Aspen Laser is committed to the health and wellness of every person who receives treatment from our advanced laser therapy systems. With over 200 locations worldwide, you can find an Aspen Laser provider in your neighborhood.