Do you have screen apnea? Breathe deeply to enhance your health and creativity
I’m always happy if I can put myself into a writing trance, shut out distractions, and find my focus. But I figured out something about myself. I sometimes forget to breathe. Literally, I find that I’m holding my breath or that my breathing is very shallow.
So when I read the book, Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind, I was intrigued to learn that there’s a name for this — screen or e-mail apnea. Unfortunately, it can be harmful to your health.
In the chapter, “Awakening to Conscious Computing,” technology consultant Linda Stone, who coined the terms e-mail apnea and screen apnea, wrote about how she observed more than 200 people using computers and smart phones in offices, homes, and cafes. The vast majority, she said, were holding their breath or breathing very shallowly, especially when responding to e-mail. Their posture while sitting at the computer was often poor, which exacerbated the problem.
As part of her research, Stone called on researchers Dr. Margaret Chesney and Dr. David Anderson, then with the National Institutes of Health, to understand the physical impact of screen apnea. She found that breath holding contributes significantly to stress-related diseases, as well as viral and bacterial infections. Breath holding throws off your body’s oxygen, carbon dioxide, and nitric oxide balance. Nitric oxide is also connected to body functions, including learning, memory, sleep, pain sensation, and depression. It also affects levels of inflammation in the body, and excessive inflammation contributes to obesity and other health issues.
Deep breathing benefits many body functions. It helps regulate body processes, including relaxation responses and signals that tell our body whether we are full or hungry. Deep breathing also improves oxygen levels and promotes clearer thinking and energy.
So how can you breathe easier and better?
Become more aware. Think about your breathing and note whether you’re holding your breath or failing to breathe deeply enough.
Practice deep breathing exercises. Deep breathing techniques like those used in meditation and yoga and practiced by athletes can help you breathe more deeply without even thinking about it.
Improve your posture. See if there are adjustments you need to make to your chair and computer setup to improve your posture.
Don’t sit too many hours at a time. Make a point to take breaks and practice your breathing periodically so that it becomes part of your routine. Stick Post It notes around your house and office with the word “Breathe” on them or set a reminder if necessary until you get into the habit.
For more information about screen apnea and other tips about creativity and productivity, read Manage Your Day-to-Day, edited by Jocelyn Glei. It includes chapters around four skill sets: building a daily routine, taming your tools, finding focus, and sharpening your creative mind.
For more information about Linda Stone’s work, visit her website.