What Is Screen Fatigue And What Can You Do About It?

As you’re reading this post, there’s a good chance you’re reading it on a screen of some kind. Whether it’s your laptop, phone or tablet – our consumption of digital screen-based content has grown exponentially over these past few months.

But really, who can blame us? The pandemic has been difficult for everyone in different ways. Besides the stress, uncertainty and overall anxiety, there’s the added challenge of sheer boredom. And what do we do when we’re bored? Usually, we gravitate to our digital devices. Sometimes, multiple devices at once.

However, there’s an obvious downside to all this – all this added screen time can’t be good for us. In fact, the terms “screen fatigue” and even “Zoom fatigue” have started to become more popular. We’re all realizing that this isn’t normal.

In this post, I’ll talk about the ways our screen habits have changed and why “screen fatigue” is a real thing. I'll also give you some tips to help combat this unique kind of exhaustion.

Screens, Screens, Everywhere

Netflix, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter – whichever platform you’re on, it’s a pretty good way to distract yourself from what’s going on in the outside world.

For many of us, our devices have served as a lifeline that allows us to work from home. Meetings have gone virtual, helping us stay connected with our colleagues and clients when we can’t see them in person.

I’ve never been more grateful that we live in the 21st century. It’s pretty amazing that I’m able to check in with my friends/family, stay up-to-date on the news, work, and binge Netflix all from the comfort of my own home.

Sure, there are times when I’d rather go outside, but in the middle of a pandemic, technology is a huge blessing.

But it’s important to recognize that our screen usage has increased significantly in the past few months. And while the reason for this is understandable, we have to admit that it’s probably not the healthiest habit we’ve come to adapt.

The constant exposure to screens isn’t great for our eyes, our sleep, or our mental health. In fact, research in adults and teens has found that increased screen time is associated with lower psychological well-being.

Unfortunately, we probably can't help it. This is especially true because we've begun to rely on screens in both our personal life and work life.

“Zoom Fatigue” – Yes, It’s A Real Thing

Whether it’s Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Webex – these platforms are keeping our work productivity afloat. As cool and helpful as these tools can be, if you inwardly cringe when you hear the phrase “Zoom meeting”, you’re not alone.

Zoom Meetings All Day, Everyday

Meetings are tiring enough as it is. But why are meetings from home so much more exhausting? It’s probably because these video meetings require more focus and attention than in-person meetings.

We need to constantly be "on" even before we start our meeting. Making sure that our background is ok (can't have any clothes lying around), our WiFi connection is strong and that we look presentable. During the meeting, you need to make sure your audio/video works, that you can hear/understand everyone and vice versa.

Just typing that out made me feel tired.

Furthermore, we may be anxious about problems with technology that could disrupt our meeting. And if we're meeting people for the first time, it becomes a lot more stressful when this occurs virtually.

Personal confession: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve muted myself, and then forgotten to un-mute when it’s my turn to speak (*facepalm*). It’s embarrassing, and at this point, it definitely NOT cute or quirky.

Low key, I am also terrified that one day I'm going to forget to mute myself if I am going to the bathroom. Can you imagine how embarrassing that would be?! Scratch that, I don't even want to imagine that.

These little things/thoughts can be very anxiety-inducing, especially if you’re in an important meeting or if you’re having multiple meetings in a day.  

Also let’s be honest, not all of us have perfect work-from-home set-up. My “workstation” is at the corner of my bedroom. If you’re a parent, it probably doesn't matter where you work - you're going to have an uninvited guest or two at some point. These factors all greatly add to the stress of video meetings.  

Pro tip: If you’re able to, try to turn off your video during certain meetings. Limit video to essential meetings only. This will help decrease some of the anxiety and tension that can accompany video calls. I do this often and it has definitely helped alleviate the burden of some meetings.

FaceTime - A Blessing And A Curse

The thing is, it’s not just work meetings. We’re also using video to call our friends and family. While these conversations should be fun and relaxing, if we feel obligated to do them or if we’re stressed out about technological issues, they quickly stop being fun and desirable. 

As much as I love using FaceTime to connect with my loved ones, I have to admit it can feel like a chore sometimes.

But let’s not forget that having to maintain social and work connections virtually isn’t exactly normal. Of course it’s stressful and strange. And frankly, we're doing the best we can.

I know it feels like we're expected to show our faces at every social interaction. But really, where did this unwritten rule come from? My advice is: do what you're most comfortable with.

It’s All Connected

Of course, it’s not just our increased screen time that’s causing us to feel exhausted. Let me remind you (in case you didnt get your daily reminder), we’re literally living in the middle of a pandemic.

So before you start to stress about how much screen content you’re consuming, remember that we’re living in a digital world. Now more than ever before, we rely on technology to get through our day.

It’s also important to remember that balance is key. If you’re lucky enough to have multiple devices, cycle through them when consuming different kinds of content.

For example, work on your laptop, read the news on your phone and watch Netflix on your TV. This way, at least you won’t be staring at the same screen for extended periods of time.

Of course, it’s important to take breaks. It may sound impossible, but try to keep at least one day of the week as a “minimal screen day”. On this one day, try to mindfully cut down on your screen time slowly. If that sounds too daunting, try to stay away from all screens one hour before bed every day.

6 Simple and Easy Tips To Combat Screen Fatigue

If you want to start seriously combatting your screen fatigue, I've compiled a list of relatively simple habits you can incorporate in your everyday routine.

1. Adjust Your Display Settings

Adjust the lighting of your device so it’s about the same as your surroundings. If you find that your screen is a light source, you may want to dim it. If it seems too dull and you’re straining to read off your screen, increase the brightness.

2. Follow The 20-20-20 Rule

One major contributor to eye strain and fatigue is how much we have to physically focus our eyes. A good tip (that I only learned recently!) is the 20-20-20 rule. Look away from your screen every 20 minutes, and gaze at a distance object (at least 20 ft away) for at least 20 seconds. Try it out!

3. Try Out Eye Yoga

Eye Yoga sounds super weird but it’s pretty simple: look to your left, hold this position; look to your right (and hold). Repeat looking up and looking down. Use this “yoga” exercise as a break throughout your day.

We also tend to blink less when staring at our screens, which can cause dry eyes. It sounds silly, but consciously blinking frequently will help prevent that itchy, annoying feeling.

4. Take Breaks

I don’t know what it is, but it seems like time passes differently when I’m scrolling through Instagram on my phone or working on my laptop. Before I know it, 4 hours have passed and I haven’t moved an inch. Here’s your friendly reminder to get up and take a break from your screen. Go for a walk, stretch, drink some water. Do something that’s not in front of a screen.

5. Go Outside

Going outside and getting enough sunlight for the day is the best way to balance all this screen exposure. If it’s safe, take a device-free walk everyday. A walk outside will help reset your circadian rhythms and balance all the artificial light you've been exposed to indoors.

6. Get Enough Sleep

The best way to combat exhaustion of any kind is to get a good night’s sleep. Of course, it’s easier said than done. I’ve talked about how this pandemic is impacting our sleep on this blog.

To sum it up: you’re stressed out, causing increased anxiety and low mood, which is all related to problems with sleep. Increased screen time doesn’t help either. Cut down on screen time before bed while also ensuring that you’re sleeping and waking up at consistent times.

Let's Wrap It Up

Hopefully by the end of this post, you're not beating yourself up about your increased screen time. Because really, spending more time on your computer or your phone isn't the end of the world.

However, we could all use to be a little bit more mindful of how we're using our devices. By recognizing that our screen exposure may be tiring us out, we're in a better position to develop and sustain healthy technology habits that will help us now and as we resume to a ''new normal''.

Again, I know we're all doing the best we can with what we've got. So remember, be kind to yourself and take it easy.

What has helped you bring some relief to your screen fatigue? I am curious to know about your creative ideas, leave a comment below!

If you need some support managing this, flip me an email, or book an appointment with anyone from my awesome team!

Until next time,

Sarah Ahmed electronic signature

Sarah Ahmed
Co-founder
WellNest Psychotherapy Services