Whether you work at a computer all day or not, everyone I have talked to during this new transition in our lives has mentioned the physiological, mental, and emotional impact on them.
I know from talking to my colleagues that those of us that don’t work in front of a screen have definitely felt the change, but it would seem that those who are used to long hours in front of a screen are also feeling the hit. We currently live in a world where screens have become our everything – our place of work, our place of learning, our place to socialize, and our place to exercise… Covid – 9screen
Screens are so much a part of our modern-day lives that they have become the norm to the point that we hardly realise how much we are interacting with them. The kindle has replaced the turn of the page for reading, the email has replaced a written letter, Facetime and texting have replaced a phone call or conversation; we bank online instead of heading to our high street to meet face to face; do our shopping online, and we reminisce over loved holidays with our families over a slideshow on the screen rather than flicking through the memories in an album.
Our world has fast changed and the phone that was just for making calls now has the ability to control everything in our lives, from making payments to turning on our heating when we are out.
Everywhere we look, people are heads down in technology, unaware of things going on around them. The draw is always there – in our pocket – that it is so easy to be left alone for one minute and to be straight onto the phone, checking texts, messages, FB posts, and emails.
The pull is real and as I discussed in Digital Stress Part One, scheduling time with and without our digital world is paramount in it not ruling us and coming between important relationships.
Structurally, we have already looked in Digital Stress Part Two at the ways that screen time can affect our biomechanics and cause pain. But what effect does this screen dominance have on our bodies from an emotional and physiological point of view?
The Sympathetic Response and Fight or Flight
When the body goes into a sympathetic response, commonly known as ‘fight or flight’, it takes two forms – to fight and run away or to freeze and shut down. The fight or flight state brings it into a high state of arousal with the body diverting most of its resources to help maintain survival by fighting back or getting the hell out of there fast. The brain leaves a load of ‘jobs’ required in the body to focus all it has on the task at hand. When it is really threatened and running away has not proven fruitful, it slows everything and shuts down in order to protect its resources in the last bid for survival.
So what is it about a screen that draws us in and holds us in so we find it hard to break away?
Screens are one of the many things that put our body into a fight-or-flight state. Physically and mentally they pull us into tunnel vision, away from a broad field of vision. When the body senses danger, our field of vision narrows down so that we are focused on the danger at hand. The screen, therefore, becomes our ‘saber tooth tiger’. Our resources are pulled to it in order to watch its every move so that we are ready if it decides to attack.
Psychosocially we often see the fight or flight effect of screens through social media and gaming use. The competitive and survival aspect of many games inevitably drives this response, increasing the load on the body as cortisol, heart rate, and blood pressure increase. Yet the pull of social media can equally become a big stressor on our bodies, leaving us with a feeling of missing out on things if we don’t keep up with all the chats, fads, and challenges and can also lead to feelings of inadequacy amongst the near perfect depiction of others’ lives which can also cause a huge amount of stress in ‘keeping up with the Jones’ ‘.
Beware the Blue Light
Our internal body clock responds to natural light. As hunter/gatherers, we would rise with the sun and go to sleep as the sunset. Sunlight is dominant in blue tones, which block our sleep-inducing melatonin production in favour of cortisol, to help wake us up and get on with the day. The orange and red tones of Sunset, on the other hand, reverse this process so that the body increases its production of melatonin to help get us sleepy and get a good night’s sleep.
The light from screens is made of a higher percentage of blue than sunlight. Therefore long hours looking at screens from computers, phones, tablets, and TVs will mean long exposure to these blue tones of light, way past sunset and will upset the balance of the yellow/ orange and red tones of sunset that naturally prepare our bodies for sleep, leading to prolonged states of arousal and fight or flight mode, with high cortisol levels in the body. The circadian rhythm of the body (our internal body clock) influences many important systems in our body such as metabolism, digestion, temperature control, and blood pressure, and interfering with this process can lead to huge stress on the body and chronic, sometimes serious conditions.
Blue light-blocking glasses have become a very common, and indeed useful, tool in helping to manage the issue of balancing the blue light so it reduces the interference with our circadian rhythm. Clear lenses are useful for daylight hours at a screen. The yellow or red lenses are great in blocking blue light, whilst increasing the yellow tones of sunset to help melatonin production in preparation for sleep. These are best worn 3 hours before going to bed.
Quality glasses can be more expensive but certainly worth the price. Blubox and Raoptics are the leaders here. if you want to try blue-blocking glasses on a cheaper budget before investing then Somnoblue is a cheap alternative and Amazon has a wide selection.
Hours spent in screen time being chased by the dangerous enemy leads to the lockdown response and shutdown mode. If you have ever tried pulling a child away for several hours on a TV you will recognize this response – it’s the one where you ask them many times to turn off the tv or put the tablet down for dinner and they just seem to ignore you. There is no response to your calls, but when you finally make your 20th plea, they snap or have a meltdown, seemingly from out of nowhere.
Monotasking is a state that occurs when the brain is juggling too many things. It happens as more and more resources are gathered to prepare for survival in the face of danger. When you need to survive, you can’t be distracted from that task, so the brain pulls you into more of an awareness of the danger so that it is the only focus of attention.
When screens pull us into tunnel vision and we are in fight-or-flight mode, our ability to manage the demands of anything else alongside this decreases. Have you ever had someone come and talk to you whilst you are trying to watch something on tv or type something on the computer? You may well notice that it is quite hard to pull yourself away from the screen as you try to keep an eye on the ‘tiger’. Classic signs that your brain has gone into monotasking mode are brain fog and the inability to think clearly; underlying mild headache like what I call a ‘concentration headache’; feeling flustered by a seemingly innocuous addition of a task and tiredness, nausea, high stress, tummy aches or poor breathing patterns (as the body’s resources become overused).
Fight or flight mode was never intended as a long-term strategy in our lives. It was meant to be available as a short-term burst to help us out of danger quickly. Yet more and more, we find the stress of a life filled with technology, and especially screens, to be holding us in long periods of stress. Therefore it is really important to recognise when you are monotasking as it is a sign that your brain needs a break, it requires a change in what you are doing so that it can rest, relax and go into healing mode. This may only be required for 5 mins as a reset but it is important and goes back to the importance of balancing screen time in our lives.
What changes can you make to using the screen? Instead of reaching for your Kindle, what books do you have lying around the house? Can you make a hands-free voice call instead of repeated video calls? Can you take notes with an old-fashioned pen and paper? What board games have you got that you can play together as a family? Instead of checking social media again, how about a walk in nature to appreciate what is all about you?
Beware the Screen!
This is a 90-minute assessment for new mums to check for rectus diastasis, posture, breathing patterns, neurological dysfunctions, and adhesions in the c-section scar, as well as activation of the pelvic floor muscles.
Clients are given breathing exercises to take home to aid re-connection to the core stabilising muscles.