11 Mar Give your eyes and brain a break: how screen rests boost well-being
With all the upheaval in the education world last year, it’s hardly surprising that a study conducted by Oxford University during the summer of 2020 found that up to one in six children and young people were experiencing mental health issues – compared with a figure of one in nine just three years previously.
Qustodio, which makes parental control software and tracks device use among tens of thousands of youngsters aged up to 15 across a range of countries, including the UK, confirms that social media activity among this age group has leapt.
Meanwhile, an Atlanta University-led survey of over 120,000 schoolchildren in China found a threefold rise in shortsightedness in 2020, meaning more were in need of glasses or stronger prescriptions.
But this may not be down to screen use alone. Earlier research found that when it comes to protecting vision, exposure to natural light is just as important as regular screen breaks.
One study discovered that sending youngsters outside for an additional 40 minutes on school days reduced the incidence of short-sightedness by 10% after three years. What’s more, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence about sleep problems among young people since the start of the pandemic.
Of course, internet connections have proved a lifeline and made communication and learning possible over the past difficult year, so we’re not suggesting for one minute that you stop using them. However, there are things you can do to mitigate the potentially negative impact of too much screen time …
- Try the 20-20-20 rule for 20/20 vision!
Every 20 minutes, focus your vision on something roughly 20 feet away for 20 seconds to help prevent eyestrain. Set an alarm to remind you if it helps. And if your eyes are starting to feel tired or dry, consider eyedrops, following the instructions carefully, of course – and always consult your doctor or pharmacist before use. If the problems persist, you’d be wise to book an eye test with your local optician in case you require glasses to help your vision.
- Focus on real rather than online friendships
Clearly, the rules have to be followed. But if you can safely meet a pal outside for a socially distanced run or walk, do it, even if you can’t enjoy a chat on a bench with a coffee afterwards. Swap instant messaging for a natter on the phone so that you can catch up while looking at something other than a screen. Maintaining key friendships is vital for your mental health.
- Get your exercise in early in the day
Go for a brisk walk or run first thing to set yourself up for the day. Listen to a podcast as you go – one that makes you think, relax or laugh, or that energises you. If you prefer to stay at home, try dancing to your favourite music, doing some star jumps (remember to warm up first!) or playing music and meditating – all of which mean staying strictly screen-free for a few minutes.
- Early to bed …
With a far less structured day, it may seem reasonable to go to bed whenever you feel like it. We hate to sound boring, but it really isn’t. There’s no point feeling shattered the next day, and sooner or later we’ll all be returning to a more regimented routine, so don’t get out of practice.
Equally, you’re not on holiday, much as though it may as feel as if you are on any days you’re not physically in school. So it really should be lights out well before midnight, at least on ‘school’ nights. And you’ll get even more benefit from your zzzzzs if you make a mammoth effort to stop looking at any phones or other devices around an hour beforehand. You may well surprise yourself with how much better and more energetic you feel the next day.
Clearly, it’s been a uniquely challenging year for everyone. But try to stay positive and to focus on small daily goals that are achievable. Getting through a pandemic is a marathon not a sprint, and while sometimes this journey may feel interminable, there is light at the end of the tunnel – and we’re heading steadily towards it!