Linda Stone has never met me, but she seems to know all about my bad technology habits.
She tells me that when I send an email, or sit down to Google, I hold my breath and tense up.
I must sound skeptical, because she challenges me to prove her wrong.
“Send an email,” she says, pausing our telephone interview. She asks me to pay attention to my body while I do so.
Whoa. My shoulders do feel tense and woops, I am holding my breath.
What Your Technology Habits Are Doing To Your Body
Stone, a former executive at Microsoft and Apple, has been studying how people behave around technology, and the news is not good.
It turns out, as much as our minds are plugged in to the technology, we are pretty much abusing our bodies.
We might be focused on getting out one last email, figuring out a new computer skill, or wrapping up whatever we are researching. Tense, tense, tense!
These bad technology habits, she and other experts say, apply to technology users of all ages. But older people dealing with desktops, laptops, iPads, smartphones and other technology may be even more tense due to the natural techno-fear so many of us face. (“What if I lose information? Can I really learn this new program”)
Being tense can be especially bad for our bodies if we’re already dealing with issues such as a temperamental back or stiff fingers.
If we fail to practice good computer ergonomics, we can end up in even more trouble.
The fix? Conscious computing, Stone says.
“When in front of any screen, we tend to leave our body,” says Stone. “We concentrate on what is on the screen and lose a relationship with how we feel. You forget the body is there.”
Eye doctors, physical therapists and yoga instructors agree with her, offering their own tips on how to compute smarter.
Conscious Computing 101
Stone took a course in Buteyko breathing, prescribed when she had a respiratory infection, and learned to breathe more normally and to avoid ”over-breathing” -breathing faster than is normal. Soon after, she noticed how badly she breathed while at the computer.
She calls that breath-holding ”screen apnea.” It happens, she says, when you are focused on computer information or the person you are emailing and your body goes into an artificial ”fight-or-flight” mode.
Controlled, slower breathing through the nose – instead of short, clipped breathing or holding your breath – can help deliver sufficient amounts of oxygen to your tissues. Some say that breathing correctly can even lower blood pressure and ward off anxiety.
- Check your breath, says New York City yoga instructor Andree Lamoth. Put your left hand on your chest, a little above your heart. Put your right hand on your belly. Close your eyes and observe your breathing. “Once you start listening to your own breath, you realize you can actually pace it,” she says.
- Aim to concentrate while computing, but not in a stressed way, Stone says. Try to be in a state of ”relaxed presence.” (Think of how young kids behave while using building blocks. They’re fully engaged, in the moment and relaxed.)
- Make this state of ”flow” your goal: engaged; not bored, not anxious.
Bifocal wearers almost always twist themselves into awkward positions when using a computer, says Jim Sheedy, OD, PhD, a vision researcher at Pacific University in Oregon. “Most commonly, you have to tilt your head back and move your chin forward,” he says. Hard on the neck.
- Consider different glasses. Sit comfortably in a posture and position where you can see the screen easily. “Measure the distance from your eyes to the screen,” Sheedy says. Take that information to your eye doctor, who can decide which spectacles are best.
- Evaluate your light. Lights that are too bright in your peripheral vision area can be wearing. “To test whether the light is too bright, put your hand between the light source and your eyes,” he says. For example, if the light is overhead, use your hands like a baseball cap visor to shield your eyes. If you can see the screen better this way, the lights are too bright, Sheedy says.
- Combat dry eye, which increases with age. At the computer, we tend to blink less often, making eyes even drier. For relief, follow the 20-20-20 rule, Sheedy suggests. “Every 20 minutes, look away 20 feet for 20 seconds.”
When plugged in, our tendency is to collapse into the chair, says Patrice Winter, a spokesperson for the American Physical Therapy Association who is on faculty at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.
- “Sit with intention,” Winter says. “You should have both feet flat, posture aligned and upright.” Your back shouldn’t be slumped into the chair back.
- Every hour, get up and walk around.
- Improve your posture. That will reduce strain on ligaments and muscles, whether you’re plugged in or not.