I have been working from home since the middle of 2020, ever since the pandemic struck. There are two fallouts that I have experienced from that.
One was unexpected.
My finger rings had been acquired over the years and were designed to fit well either on the fingers of my left or right hand. All my life, up until this point, the fingers of my right hand were thicker than the respective fingers of my left hand, which made perfect sense as my right hand is the dominant one. Now, to my surprise, I was able to wear rings on my right hand that refused to slide beyond the knuckle of my left hand.
Curious! After some due consideration, I attributed it to the increased computer workload and typing. My style of typing involves a greater reliance on my left-hand and these fingers get a good workout. On the other hand (no pun intended), my right-hand moves around, maneuvers the mouse, hits delete, space, and other non-word keys – a moderate all-around workout. I consider the ring conundrum solved.
The second fallout was less amusing. My eyes started reminding me, in no uncertain terms, that something was different and I needed to pay attention. Severe eye strain coupled with headaches occurred with increasing regularity, becoming altogether too frequent, compromising work, recreation, and life itself.
I made an appointment with my local eye-care provider as my eyes clamored for attention. My optometrist handed me a card with printed material of various sizes on it and asked me to read it. As I read the card, I couldn’t help but smile. Apparently, I learned as I read, Galileo had affirmed in his 17th-century analysis of the senses that sight was the ’most excellent and noble of the senses.’ Neither Galileo nor my optometrist was going to get any argument from me on that point.
Working from home definitely has its perks. It saves the environment from fossil fuel exhaust, deletes the interminable boredom of getting stuck on the freeway, and drastically reduces the infections one tracks back home from work. However, it also allows one to get sucked into a routine of being wedded to the computer for endless stretches of time. Ironically, even what counts as relaxation- reading the news, or playing a game- is channeled through a screen. This lifestyle leads to an escalating increase in screen time.
Working in an office environment involves movement that we take for granted. We attend face-to-face meetings seated around a table, converse with colleagues and friends, walk to the cafeteria or a seminar, and commute to work. Setting up an office at home inherently gives priority to a quiet space within the home environment, where the computer screen is the focal point. In the present pandemic, meetings, conferences, seminars, even happy hours are conducted through the screen, not to mention the actual work. Several of us are sucked in this routine for at least five days a week, and those windows to our soul need our conscious protection.
This dependence on digital technology has led to a condition that has been dubbed digital eye strain (DES). The most obvious symptom is headache, especially around the back of the eyes. Other indicators include strained eye muscles, neck and shoulder pain, irritated eyes and blurred vision, light sensitivity, along with an increasing dependence on prescription eyeglasses.
Eye strain is a result of continuously forcing the eyes to focus on a relatively close and bright screen. Constant focus on an object that is at a close distance strains the eye muscles. Secondly, uninterrupted focus on a bright object also causes strain.
A simple fix to the distance issue is to use what is commonly called the 20-20-20 rule. Focus your eyes on a distant object about 20 feet away, for 20 seconds, at 20-minute intervals. Focusing on a distant object relaxes the eye muscles, and it takes 20 seconds for the muscles to relax. Next, maintain the brightness of the screen at approximately the level of the ambient light. Although there is mention that the blue light wavelengths emanating from screens damage the retina, a sensitive nervous layer at the back of the eyes, there is not enough evidence to confirm this. Nevertheless, protecting the eyes with lenses designed for computer work is not a bad idea. Also keeping the monitor about 1.5 to 2 feet away from your face will help mitigate both these contributing factors.
Moderation is the key. It is important to take frequent breaks away from the workstation, stay hydrated, use artificial tears if the eyes feel dry, and find a comfortable posture and office desk/chair set up to enable less strain on the body while your mind is working at warp speed.
Your eyes need to last you for your lifetime. Providing them with the best framework to keep up their essential work, and cope with the prevalent times, seems prudent at the very least.
L. Iyengar has lived and worked in India and the USA. A scientist by training, she enjoys experiencing diverse cultures, ideas, and writing. Her short story will be included in an anthology showcasing a group of international women writers, to be published in 2021 by The Nasiona. She can be found on Twitter at @l_iyengar.