100% of my work is done on a computer. There are some aspects of this that are great, like being able to basically work from anywhere and not needing extra equipment that takes up tons of space. But my eyes didn’t take to it very well in the beginning. The entire first week of working, I had the worst headache of my life, all thanks to having to stare at a screen for 8 hours a day.
I was experiencing symptoms of Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS) or screen fatigue, and I know I’m not alone. The American Optometric Association says that anyone who spends 2 or more hours every day looking at a screen is “at greatest risk for developing CVS” (1).
I would guess that a large portion of freelancers spend most of their working day looking at computers - that can be 4 times the amount of time that puts you at risk! Plus, most people spend their time relaxing looking at screens as well.
That means that it’s not crazy to think that a normal person could be spending 9-12 hours a day staring at a glowing box.
While screens don’t necessarily pose any major health risks, they can produce some unpleasant effects.
Common symptoms of CVS include:
Neck, shoulder, and back pain (1)
They’re minor discomforts, maybe, but they’re things that can add up and begin to affect your overall quality of life. Thankfully, there are ways that you can help minimize the impact of so much time spent with screens.
Studies have shown that while looking at digital devices people blink less, sometimes half as often as they normally would (2). This means that your eyes aren’t getting the moisture they need.
Since blinking isn’t something that you normally think about, it can be difficult to stay aware of how much or how little you’re doing it. But if you’ve been experiencing symptoms of screen fatigue, simply blinking more could help alleviate some of the irritation.
Put something on your computer or desk that, when you look at it, will remind you to blink more often, even if it’s just a sticky note that says, “BLINK!”
2. Give Your Eyes Rest
To prevent CVS, it’s important to give your eyes regular breaks from screens and allow them to focus on objects at greater distances (1).
One common rule of thumb to use is the 20-20-20 method. Every 20 minutes you should look at something about 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds. Set a reminder for yourself if you need to, or change your environment so that you’re more likely to do this naturally. For instance, moving my desk directly in front of a window saved the day for me. Now, without even having to remind myself, I regularly glance outside and look at things that are further away (and that aren’t glowing).
Taking longer breaks for your eyes is also important. The American Optometric Association recommends taking a 15 minute break for every 2 hours of continuous use of a device.
3. Reduce Glare and Imbalanced Lighting
Other ways to prevent strain on your eyes involve adjusting glare and lighting (1). Glares on your computer screen can cause your eyes to work even harder than they would otherwise. Clean off smudges and reposition either your workspace or lights to reduce glare on the screen.
Also, harsh lighting can cause symptoms of CVS as well. Very brightly and very dimly lit environments can cause headaches and other irritation. Turn off harsh artificial light sources or close the window blinds a little if there’s too much bright light in the room where you’re working, or add a lamp if the room is too dark (just be sure it’s positioned so that it doesn’t cause glare!).
Your screen brightness could also be a problem. Ideally, a computer should not be noticeably brighter or dimmer that the rest of the room (3,4).
4. Change Your Screen’s Position and Settings
There’s a good chance you’re not working with ideal screen position or settings. It is recommended that computers be placed an arm’s length (about 25 inches) from your face with the center of the screen around 10-15 degrees below eye level (4). That way you are looking down slightly with your eyes without having to tilt your neck.
Also consider adjusting your display settings. Most computers allow you to change the temperature of the screen’s color display, so try making it a little warmer to reduce the amount of blue light that you are exposed to during the day (3,4).
Screens have become an inevitable and necessary part of daily life, but the uncomfortable effects can be avoided. Don’t just accept the irritation and pain of Computer Vision Syndrome; take steps to adjust and improve your working environment so that you can stay focused on the things that will move your freelance business forward.
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Computer Vision Syndrome:Suggestions for Computer Vision Syndrome Sufferers. American Optometric Association. https://www.aoa.org/patients-and-public/caring-for-your-vision/protecting-your-vision/computer-vision-syndrome
13 Tips to Prevent Eye Fatigue. WebMD, 2016. https://www.webmd.com/eye-health/eye-fatigue-causes-symptoms-treatment#1
Heiting, G. and Wan, L. Computer Eye Strain: 10 Steps for Relief. All About Vision, 12 February 2018. http://www.allaboutvision.com/cvs/irritated.htm
Prevent Eyestrain from Digital Devices. WebMD, 2017. https://www.webmd.com/eye-health/prevent-digital-eyestrain