How to avoid anxiety, eye strain and losing sleep

Published July 15, 2020


Lady scrolling on her phone can't sleep

A lot of people have been super digital the past few months. It's hard not to be, with many in-person events and routines cancelled. Virtual happy hour, online religious services, telehealth appointments and lots of Netflix binging means more digital socialization. Which is great! Because the risks of COVID-19 from a screen are basically zero.

But all the extra computer, phone and TV time isn't great for your health. Too much screen time can have these three effects:

  1. Increased anxiety from "doomscrolling"
  2. Trouble sleeping at night
  3. Eye strain, dry eyes and headaches

One way to reduce the strain on your eyes is to stop looking at screens so much. But – let's be real – screens have been a great alternative to in-person interactions. Read on to find out how to avoid the negative effects of screens while staying safe from COVID-19.

1.    How doomscrolling increases anxiety

A new phenomenon (and word) to come out of this shared experience is "doomscrolling." It's when you can't stop reading negative news for hours at a time. Wanting to stay informed is completely normal, but living in a state of bad news can harm your mental health. 

When you're in a funk, your body wants to stay there. Think of it as negative inertia: You continue to feel down because your actions (like doomscrolling) are reinforcing your foul mood.
"A common technique in dialectical behavior therapy is to act opposite to your current emotion," says Amber Bond, PA-C, Psychiatry. "If you're in a doomsday mindset, do something fun."

Watch a funny movie, eat some tasty ice cream, talk to a close friend or go for a stroll outside. The important thing is to choose a positive action that makes you feel good. When you act and feel in control, your mental health will follow. And try to avoid doomscrolling – especially late at night.

2.    Can't sleep? Blame blue light

If you're having trouble sleeping at night, is blue light from your phone to blame? Browsing social media or watching TV right before bed can mess up your sleep schedule. 

"The blue light from your phone at night interrupts your circadian rhythm," says optometrist Muriel Jepsen, OD. "The blue light from screens tells your body to decrease melatonin, the sleep chemical, making it harder to fall asleep."

The fix is pretty simple: Avoid all screens one hour (or more) before bed. Silence or turn off your phone an hour before you intend to go to sleep. 

3.    Avoid eye strain, dry eyes and headaches with these three tips

Some people use a computer for most of their workday. Headaches, eye strain and dry eyes are all too common symptoms from using a screen for long periods of time. If you're suffering – and can't exactly take the day off – here are some ways to help.

  1. Hydrate! Getting enough hydration helps reduce eye strain. When you don't drink enough water, your body creates fewer tears. So drink up – your eyes will love it. 
  2. Blink on purpose. Blinking produces tears that refresh your eyes. While gazing at a computer screen, we blink less naturally. Tell yourself to blink if your eyes are tired.
  3. Use artificial tears. You can buy these without a prescription. Artificial tears lubricates dry eyes and can even help your eyes heal.

If you continue to have eye issues, that's a good sign that you should see an optometrist. "Some people need different prescriptions for working at a computer versus driving," says Dr. Jepsen. "Or your prescription might need a simple adjustment."

Call 402.559.2020 to schedule an eye appointment with our experienced optometrists.

If your prescription is over a year old, it's definitely time to come in. See all Nebraska Medicine optometrists here.