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Stop, breathe: How Screen Apnea can affect your health

Believe it or not, staring at a screen might be affecting the way you breathe.

We are masters at keeping up with hundreds of emails a day. We jump at the sound of our iPhone enticing us to focus on yet another email or text.

That enduring bright blue light, the sacred flame from our iPhone screen lights up our faces day and night. There is no doubt we are living in a world of hyper-connectivity, but are we forgetting to breathe?

According to Linda Stone, former technology executive, we are. Stone spent months researching and testing the physiological impacts of sitting in front of a screen and found that people either shallow breathe or stop breathing.

The good news is, not breathing or shallow breathing when you’re in front of a screen, for either work or play has a name: Screen Apnea.

While there is the obvious irony in the fact that you’re probably reading this piece about Screen Apnea on a screen, and that you’re more than likely having a chuckle to yourself about it, as it turns out this phenomenon is not so funny.

I don’t need to drone on about the detrimental health impacts of holding our breath or shallow breathing as we’ve heard it all before.

But, it is worth reminding ourselves that compromised breathing does increase stress levels, impact our attitude, our sense of emotional well being and our ability to work effectively.

A quick and dirty list of symptoms includes: tightness in the neck and shoulders, kicking off the autonomic nervous system into the fight-flight response and releasing the stress hormone adrenalin, thrusting us into a deep, dark world of pain (so to speak).

So why are we holding our breath? Simple, when we sit in front of our screens or stare at our iPhones, we tend to hunch, pushing our arms and shoulders forward and making it difficult to inhale and exhale fully.

Add a dose of anticipation to the mix, which is generally a complimentary side dish accompanying emails and texts and we are well and truly on struggle street when it comes to breathing.

What you can do about it

So, top tips for reducing Screen Apnea?

  1. Be aware. Do you hold your breath in front of your screen? When? Identify your triggers and remind yourself to stop and breathe deeply, focusing on exhaling.
  2. Mobilise. Instead of calling or emailing – walk over to your colleague’s desk. Be conscious of taking breaks, get up and move around for 5-10 minutes.
  3. Conscious Computing: Use technology to break bad habits. I acknowledge the paradox that of all things a mobile app such as Stand Up or GPS for the Soul or even a simple Outlook reminder will go some way towards reducing Screen Apnea.
  4. Improve your posture. Look at making any necessary adjustments to your chair and computer setup to improve your posture. Get a stand up desk if need be – everyone else is doing it.

Last updated on 15 September 2016

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