Remember to breathe when staring at computer screens

Take a breath

Do me a favour right now; take a breath, a deep breath.

Remembering to take a breath is needed more today than in days gone by.

A day in front of a computer or device feels exhausting and often leaves us cranky. Sorting through the daily deluge of emails, texts, and messages, working in front of a screen—the technology rabbit-hole—takes our breath away, literally. Science is revealing the reasons, and simple fixes to the challenge. With increasing numbers of people spending seven or more hours in front of a computer screen every day, learning how to support ourselves is important.

Recent changes in my life have required spending more time in front of my computer screen. I’ve noticed I’m feeling increased tiredness and irritability than seems unreasonable for the work at hand. I grew curious, and found a simple fix to my dilemma—remembering to breathe.

I’ve long known about sleep apnea, the cessation of breathing during sleep, but until recently, I had never heard about email or screen apnea, the tendency to hold our breath as we’re working in front of a screen. According to writer and researcher, Linda Stone, 80% of people experience screen-apnea while working in front of a device. And it comes with a cost.

Email or screen apnea, according to Stone, is “a temporary absence or suspension of breathing, or shallow breathing, while doing email.” The brain instinctively shuts-off certain subconscious activities, such as awareness of hunger and temperature, as well as breathing, during times of focus, allowing the brain to divert its energy and resources.

Holding our breath activates the stress-response, reducing our ability to think and perceive clearly and make good decisions. We tend to feel more reactive and irritable. Also called “apnea-lite,” it increases our risk of elevated blood pressure, stroke and heart attack. The stress-chemical cortisol is also increased, predisposing us to diabetes. We’re doing this for increasing hours a day.

A slumped posture as we work only adds to the mix, compromising our ability to breathe deeply and oxygenate our lungs and body fully as we sit. Our eyes become fatigued and strained as we maintain our gaze at the same distance, and blink less often as we focus on the screen. There’s even a name for this, “computer vision syndrome,” resulting in eye-strain, headaches, eye-twitching, as well as back, neck, and shoulder strain.

Awareness is curative and the fix is simple. Learning to notice our posture and tendency to hold our breath, and remembering to take deep breaths periodically is helpful. Setting a timer helps provide a reminder. Close and soften the eyes, and be sure to change the distance at which you’re focussing from time-to-time. Taking time to gaze out the window or at something in the distance helps to relax our eyes.

Take breaks regularly, and don’t skip them. Get up and walk away from your device. Remember to breathe and not simply flipping to a personal app during our break-times is vital. Soften your shoulders Takea moment to stretch and breathe deeply. These practices make us more efficient and mindful than pushing through does.

And, if we have “that person” whose name appearing in our in-box creates stress or tension, remember to pause and breathe deeply a few times before opening it. Not only will you perceive more clearly, but you’ll be better equipped to respond instead of react to challenging messages.

Mr. Miyagi of the Karate Kid movies had sage advice, “When you feel life is out of focus, always return to the basics of life. Breathing. No breath, no life.”

Remember to breathe.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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About the Author

Corinne is first a wife, mother, and grandmother, whose eclectic background has created a rich alchemy that serves to inform her perspectives on life.

An assistant minister at the Centre for Spiritual Living Kelowna, she is a retired nurse with a master’s degree in health science and is a hospice volunteer.  She is also an adjunct professor with the school of nursing  at UBC Okanagan and currently spends her time teaching smartUBC, a unique mindfulness program offered at UBC, to the public. 

She is a speaker and presenter and from her diverse experience and knowledge, both personally and professionally, she has developed an extraordinary passion for helping people gain a new perspective, awaken and recognize we do not have to be a slave to our thoughts, stress or to life. We are always at a point of change.

Through this column, Corinne blends her insights and research to provide food for the mind and the heart, to encourage an awakening of the power and potential within everyone.

Corinne lives in Kelowna with her husband of 44 years and can be reached at [email protected].

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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