What you can do to mitigate the harmful effects of prolonged screen time.
Posted November 17, 2020
During the pandemic, the amount of screen time for many people working and learning from home as well as binge-watching TV has sharply increased. And prolonged screen time is leaving a series of maladies in its wake.
Researchers at Arizona State University published a study showing that heavy screen users—defined as those who use screens an average of 17.5 hours per day—reported the least healthful dietary patterns and the poorest health-related characteristics compared with moderate and light users, who averaged roughly 11.3 and 7 hours of screen use per day, respectively.
Screen apnea is another side effect of prolonged screen use in which users temporarily hold their breath or have shallow breathing while working (or playing) in front of screens. Screen apnea can lead to serious stress-related illnesses and compromise work productivity.
Computer vision syndrome (CVS) is a condition in which you experience eye symptoms, such as eye strain, redness, or blurred vision, from prolonged computer screen exposure.
Zoom fatigue and burnout in which screen time saps your energy and focus might just be the most pervasive of all, with incidences popping up for legions of people spending hours on end remote working, practicing telemedicine, or taking online classes. Zoom burnout impedes your mental and physical health and compromises career success over the long haul.
What Is Zoom Burnout?
The World Health Organization describes burnout as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” Three symptoms can help you recognize it: “feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and reduced professional efficacy.”
According to a recent study, the more severe your burnout, the more stressed you are at work, and the more difficult it is for you to fulfill your professional obligations. You suffer from exhaustion. You have a deep sense of disillusionment and hopelessness that your efforts have been in vain. Life loses its meaning, and small tasks feel like a hike up Mount Everest. Your interests and motivation dry up, and you fail to meet even the smallest work obligations.
Practices to Mitigate Zoom Burnout
“If this year has shown us anything, it's that we're never going back to the way things were—and that Zoom is the new office,” said Arianna Huffington, Founder and CEO of Thrive Global. “Now that we’re all spending hours each day on Zoom, we need to create new rituals and practices within Zoom Meetings to prevent virtual fatigue.”
Scientists have identified several actions you can take to mitigate the harmful effects of Zoom burnout and maximize your energy, job performance, and workday productivity.
1. Blue-light glasses: Most of the technology we commonly use—such as computer screens, smartphones, and tablets—emits blue light, which past research has found can disrupt sleep. In a recent article for Psychology Today, I wrote about new research showing that wearing blue-light glasses for those spending a lot of time in front of a computer screen filters the blue light. It can lead to a better night's sleep, improve business decisions, and contribute to a better day's work to follow.
2. Time in nature: Less screen time and more green time are associated with better psychological health and cognitive functioning, according to research. Spending a minimum of 120 minutes a week in nature and taking “awe walks”—strolls in which you intentionally shift your attention outward to the natural environment instead of inward where you could be thinking of unfinished work—have been shown to mitigate many of the effects of prolonged sitting, chronic screen time, and virtual fatigue.
3. “The 20-20-20 rule” can help mitigate the effects of screen apnea, Zoom burnout, and computer vision syndrome (CVS). The rule says that for every 20 minutes spent looking at a screen, you take a 20-second break, move around, and look at something 20 feet away, which relaxes the eye muscles for 20 seconds and gives your brain a much-needed respite.
Burnout Essential Reads
Here’s how the rule works: Set an alarm or time popup for every 20 minutes when you’re working in front of a screen as a reminder to get up from your workstation, deep breathe, and stretch. It takes 20 seconds for your eyes to fully relax. Every 20 minutes for 20 seconds, walk around the room, hydrate yourself, close your eyes, or look out a window—perhaps at a tree, squirrel, or some aspect of nature. Take off your shoes and dig your toes into the carpet for 20 seconds. And you’re ready to get back to your screen for another 20 minutes.
4. Open awareness mindfulness—the peaceful observing what’s happening around you as it’s happening—allows you to meditate while you go about business as usual without spending extra time. It can be any brief activity that makes you mindful of the present moment. Open awareness meditation for just 60 seconds helps you unwind, clear your head, and raise your energy level.
Sit in a comfortable place with eyes open or shut for one minute. With curiosity, focus on all the different sounds around you, and see how many you can identify. You might notice the heating or air conditioning system, traffic off in the distance, a siren, voices from other areas in the building, an airplane, the ticking of a clock, or your own gurgling stomach. After one minute, instead of trying to remember the sounds, bring your attention inside and notice if you’re not calmer and more clearheaded.
5. Apply the Thrive Reset Zapp: Perhaps one of the biggest innovations to prevent Zoom fatigue is the new Thrive Reset Zapp. Thrive Global, the behavior change technology company founded by Arianna Huffington, has teamed up with Zoom Video Communications, Inc. to launch the Thrive Reset Zapp, the in-meeting app that helps users de-stress in real-time within Zoom Meetings to prevent virtual fatigue.
Guthier, C. et al. (2020). Reciprocal effects between job stressors and burnout: A continuous time meta-analysis of longitudinal studies. Psychological Bulletin. DOI: 10.1037/bul0000304
Oswald, T. K., et al. (2020). Psychological impacts of "screen time" and "green time" for children and adolescents: A systematic scoping review. PLOS ONE, 15 (9): DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0237725
Vizcaino, M., et al. (2020). From TVs to tablets: the relation between device-specific screen time and health-related behaviors and characteristics. BMC Public Health, 20 (1295). DOI: 10.1186/s12889-020-09410-0