Are you working 100% online now because of the pandemic? I am, and I have been for about a month now (jeez!). If I might ask, how are you doing? While I am working the exact same number of hours at work, I sometimes feel more fatigued after a virtual day than an office day. Working from home, we are spending more time sitting in front of a screens and causing ourselves both physical and emotional strain.
When was the last time you looked another human in the eye? When everything first moved online a few weeks ago, I was excited to get invitations to virtual events. However, today, I find myself exhausted by online interactions. One reason, in my opinion, that we feel exhausted by virtual meetings is the lack of eye contact. When we are sitting in a Zoom room, we stare at our colleagues, our open email inboxes, or at other internet windows. However, one place we certainly are not looking during our virtual meetings is into each other’s eyes. For me, the inability to look someone in the eyes while having a long conversation is mentally exhausting. I feel as if my eyes are chasing theirs in an ever-fruitless attempt to establish a real connection.
Another reason virtual meetings can feel so exhausting is because our eyes are bombarded with imagery. One day, I attended five (!!) Zoom meetings with attendance ranging from 9 to around 30. When different people are talking, the screen flashes from image to image, as if a low-quality film is being played before your eyes. It’s hard for your brain to focus in this way. In a physical room full of people, we choose where to turn our heads and direct our eyes, however, in the virtual world we are told where to look. And all of this “staring” is only exacerbated by the harmful high-energy blue light waves of our computer screens. This “blue light” is disruptive to the brain and increased exposure can interfere with our sleep cycles.
When it comes to the physical strain of working at home, the biggest culprit could be your seat. For me, much of my work now gets done in bed. While this may have been considered “the dream” at an earlier time, the reality is that a soft mattress is not conducive to long hours behind a laptop. If you feel any sort of strain in your bum or back, it may well be because your chair (or bed) is too soft. While offices at times can feel uncomfortable, your office chair was probably doing more good for you than you may have realized.
When working at home, it is important to take active breaks, especially when you begin to experience eye strain or physical discomfort. The coronavirus is not the only threat to your health during these times. Extended periods of inactivity over time can reduce metabolic functions and impair the body’s ability to control blood sugar levels, regulate blood pressure, and break down fat. Adding a little movement into your day (even just a few 15 min brisk walks) can support better mental and physical health, especially during these trying times. If you don’t have time to leave your virtual office, even doing a short cardio circuit (like jumping jacks, squats, and pushups) every hour or so will benefit for your eyes, back, and brain during the virtual work day.
For me, increased screen time has its benefits—for one, I have a lot more free time now that my commute is no more—but also has some pitfalls. When I am at home, I am can go on short walks to reenergize between meetings. During these moments my eyes are temporarily liberated from their digital cage and my body released from a cushiony trap. Feeling my blood pump, a little faster is invigorating. During these moments, I am reminded how greatly one’s physical health affects one’s mental health. Without fail, I feel better 100% of the time after returning from a brisk walk. If a little more movement is all that it takes to make the virtual life a little smoother, then I, of course, will continue to prioritize my health in this way during the pandemic.
I wish your eyes and body a break from their digital reality, Dear Reader, and hope that you can benefit from a little well-planned movement throughout your virtual day.
Wishing you good health and safety in solidarity.