When we say “tech break,” what do we mean? In its simplest terms, a tech break can be summed up in a few words: switch off and walk away. But in many cases it’s one of the hardest things we can force ourselves to do. Why is that?
Some would say the concern is that our technology has developed a culture of instant “reward mindset” within us. When you’re being super-productive at your computer or crushing the levels of a new video game, the last thing you want to do is hit pause and get up. You don’t dare; what about all that progress?
It’s understandable we feel this way. Technology has conditioned us to feel this way.
Nevertheless, here’s the truth—the human body and brain weren’t designed to consume technology like we do. As such, our health and wellness can be affected by it dramatically. But is that damage irreparable, and even altogether unavoidable?
Contrary to popular belief, no it isn’t. We just need to be conscious of our behaviour with tech.
Technology is a benefit to us all in so many ways. We’re connected, informed, and entertained like never before. Part of experiencing these benefits should be recognizing when technology becomes “too much” at one time. That’s when we need to understand the importance of taking a tech break.
Tech Break Warning Signs
If any of these things are happening or have happened to you, they’re signs you must take a tech break. To help you with prevention, recognize the symptoms so you can act before the problem gets unbearable.
Next, make taking a series of mandatory tech breaks part of your daily ritual. Your body and brain will thank you. We’ve got suggestions for that as well. First, however, let’s take a look at some of the conditions that too much tech can give rise to.
Computer Vision Syndrome
Computer vision syndrome (CVS) is a common affliction with people who work or play in front of screens for much of the day. It’s basically like a repetitive stress injury for the eyes. As images on a screen shift and animate, your eyes are in constant adjustment mode. This keeps your cognitive functions in high gear as well, because you’re always having to reset and regain a clear mental picture of what the screen is showing you.
Also, adapting our body posture to accommodate sitting in unnatural positions for long periods creates wear and tear on the neck and shoulders. It’s called tech neck and it can be very painful—in extreme cases, even immobilizing. Believe it or not, tech neck can also have an indirect but debilitating effect on our vision, albeit temporarily.
Symptoms: Strained or dry eyes, headaches, shoulder/neck pain (tech neck), blurry vision
Damaged Sleep Cycle
Many of us tend to use our technology within the hour we decide to go to bed. Here’s what happens when we do that: we rob ourselves of our ability to get a good night’s rest. That’s because the blue light from screen displays inhibits our body’s natural melatonin supply. The result is that we feel less tired, even if we’re exhausted, and that will eventually disrupt our internal clock.
We sleep less, and the sleep we do get isn’t deep or restful; it’s not the healthy regenerative sleep we need. Our bodies need to experience REM sleep phases in order for healthy rest to take place. Too much screen time before bed hinders the ability to fall into that cycle naturally. Over time it impacts our overall health in surprisingly scary ways.
Symptoms: Chronic fatigue and tiredness, irritability, compromised immune system, lack of focus and concentration, inability to fall asleep quickly
Experiencing a “Low Cycle”
Interacting with screens can build up a sensory overload after a certain length of time. An extended period of interaction with screens can bring on a kind of psychological burnout that appears quite suddenly. Basically, you are blank-minded and completely unproductive. This is what we call a low cycle. It renders you incapable of processing anything you see on the screen. It’s kind of like a partial neural shut-down.
All you can do at this point is just walk away, after an hour or two goes by and you haven’t accomplished anything. The eyes and brain can only take so much screen time. Sometimes they’ll simply take their own tech break without your permission. It can be a troubling occurrence if you don’t know what’s actually happening.
Symptoms: Lack of focus, loss of concentration, loss of productivity, mind “blanking”, depression/anxiety
Can too much technology actually negatively affect your metabolism? That’s what the Oxford Journal of Medicine seems to believe, and it has much truth to it. Hence they have tied a condition called metabolic syndrome to excessive screen time. Imagine a cumulative cocktail of diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure. You don’t want it.
Symptoms: Increase in weight, dehydration, fatigue, blurry vision, disorientation
Gotcha! Mom was wrong, this doesn’t actually happen.
5 Handy Tech Break Tips
Your tech break is the time to focus on your health and wellness, and a structured activity always helps the process. Scheduling holds you accountable and becomes a beneficial habit. Practice some of these preventative measures for your next tech break.
Timing Your Tech Break
There are many schools of thought on this. In fact, any kind of break is better than none. To maximize your breaks, however, a formulaic approach is best. As mentioned above, it helps you develop good habits for taking tech breaks that will soon become second nature.
Need a place to start? If you want to use a general guideline, here’s one that works well. Every 45 minutes to an hour, step away from your screen or interface for 5–10 minutes.
During that time, do anything unrelated to tech. That can involve doing some body weight exercises, stretching, or taking a short 5-minute walk. If you work from home, you can do some dishes, put in a load of laundry, or play with your pet or your kids. Use a timer for this if you need to.
The 20-20-20 Rule
The formula works like this: every 20 minutes, look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds. It works, and you can do it anytime, not just every 20 minutes.
The Pomodoro Technique
This productivity technique developed by Francesco Cirillo has been around since 1980. It’s a timer-based activity that gives you strategic breaks when you need them.
This is really, really, REALLY important. Tech breaks should always involve some kind of stretching when possible, especially if you work at a desk. Here are some perfect ones to try from Wellness for Life.
Take an Hour (or More)
This strategy for a tech break will protect the natural sleep cycle we talked about earlier. It requires that at least an hour before you go to bed, you turn off all your tech and don’t engage with screens.
Doing this gives your eyes and brain time to decompress from absorbing blue light. There are lots of non-screen-related things you can do for that last hour or so. Here are some ideas:
- Go for a short walk
- Do some light reading or journalling
- Stretch or practice yoga
- Get some fresh air
- Meditate or do deep breathing exercises
A Price We Don’t Have to Pay
Our dependence on technology in the digital age has a price tag. But the power to change that is ours. We have the ability to create our own discount. How do we do that? By giving ourselves regular tech breaks. We can, we should, and for our continuing holistic health and wellness, we must.