By Dr. Robert Pate, PsyD
Raise your hand if you are tired of staring at screens? Even reading this blog…it’s rough, right? You spend hours each day watching WebEx or Zoom classes, reading your textbooks online, scrolling through social media updates, responding to emails, writing papers, playing games, and, if you’re like me, setting your alarms for the next morning. We do all this, then we wake up and do it all over again. Ugh.
As much as I appreciate the wonderful things technology allows us to do, including remote learning, ordering food deliveries, socializing, and a thousand other things, it can get old pretty fast. My wife and I are part of a couples Bible study and we have been meeting every other week and working through the book of Exodus since early in 2020 before COVID-19 hit the USA in full force. As we’ve gone through the study together, we have consistently lamented the fact that we cannot gather together in person.
Two nights ago we covered the passages in Exodus where in God leads the Israelites “the long way around” in the desert out of his mercy, knowing that if they went directly through Philistine territory without first developing their identity as a free and empowered people in the desert, they would flee to “lesser evil” of their chains in Egypt. I don’t know about you, but pretty much all of 2020 feels like “the long way around.” I don’t know what purpose God might be working out in all of the myriad hardships so many people have suffered through this year, but I have to trust there’s something on the other side.
When I think about all the time we’ve spent staring at screens because of COVID-19, I am struck by both the emotional and sometimes physical pain I experience as I sit in my chair hour after hour at work and home, as well as the great benefits derived from making use of the available technologies to continue educating my students, helping my therapy clients, and connecting with friends and loved ones.
Perhaps you’ve found yourself in a similar position lately. You’re burned out, eyes dry and red, nerves a bit frazzled, and maybe feeling some of the loneliness creep in. After several weeks of remote learning, remote socializing, and developing a “new normal” for digital higher education this academic year, I hope you are finding ways to care for your emotional and physical needs. More specifically, if you are experiencing what some have termed “Zoom Fatigue” I hope you will consider the suggestions below for reducing the mental, emotional, and physical strain that our beloved screens can exert on us over time.
1. Take a break! If you’ve been in front of your screen for a couple hours of class already today, make sure to stand up, walk around, and get outside if possible anytime your instructor gives you a break. When possible, schedule screen breaks in your day. If there’s a “bathroom break” in a class/meeting and nature isn’t calling you at that point, get up anyway! Don’t sit in front of your device when you don’t have to. And don’t just exchange your laptop for your phone. Setting boundaries around screen time can be tremendously helpful. Stop looking at all screens for a few minutes. My wife, a molecular biologist who has read just about everything there is to read on COVID-19 and its impacts, passed along a recommendation she recently came across…every 20 minutes, spend 1 minute looking 20 feet away. This should help your eye muscles to focus in different ways and avoid exhaustion.
2. Exercise! This can look any way you want. Stretching, walking around your room, walking to Wanda’s, playing a sport with a few other students (still possible even if social distancing/wearing masks), just do something! Maybe some push ups? A solo dance party? (I won’t share a picture of me doing either, though I hear laughter is good medicine.) This should improve your circulation and help your joints to not stiffen as much throughout the day. Remember, your body is used to walking to your car, walking to the next class, walking to lunch, walking to class again, and walking back to your dorm/car.
3. Play! If you can find a game to play that does not involve a screen, great, but if that’s the only option you’ve got, that’s still helpful. Engage your mind in creative tasks. Downloading information constantly is helpful, but only to a point. Hopefully your instructors are providing some critical/creative thinking experiences in class, but either way, find time to build/solve/create something. Maybe put together some IKEA furniture, build some Legos, spend a few bucks to create a flower garden for your window sill, etc. The point is to do something fun and creative to keep your spirits up, even if you can’t do your preferred leisure activities like attending a concert, intramural sports, spending time at the gym, or taking an art class with friends.
4. Talk to someone about it! If you are finding yourself heading down a less-than-healthy path, whether mentally, emotionally, or physically, talk to a friend, instructor, pastor, family member, or maybe a therapist. CBU has a fantastic counseling center with plenty of therapists who specialize in helping people get through tough times. There are lots of other options for getting professional help, but the CBU counseling center can be a great place to start. It’s convenient and cost-effective. Consider giving them a call. You don’t have to be broken, crazy, or diagnosable to go to therapy. In fact, all of the students in my program (I teach in the Doctor of Psychology, PsyD, program here at CBU) are required to complete at least 40 hours of individual psychotherapy to help them be the best therapist possible for their clients.
5. Finally, if you can, consider sitting outside for class/meetings/therapy/social time. I have some therapy clients I meet with through a software program designed to be safe for therapy, and a few of them will sit on their balcony, sit out in their car, sit at a relatively empty park, or anywhere else they can to be out of the house while we have our sessions together. Whenever you can get away from a desk, do it! Even standing at your desk can help. Just get out of the sitting position. I’m currently building myself a standing desk at my house for when I’m working at home. What can you be doing to help your mind and body?
This has been a tough season for most of us, and some much more so than others. Take a few minutes each day to reset your mind and body by changing the scenery, infusing some fun time, and getting physically active. We don’t know how long this will last, but as we take “the long way around” COVID-19, let’s make sure that we are as mentally, emotionally, and physically healthy as we can be on the other side. God bless you as you make your waythrough the rest of the semester!