It’s been well over a year since we started working from home.
Like many, I’ve woken up to the threat lockdowns pose to my mental health. But what I wasn’t prepared for was the damage being done elsewhere in my body. So, as words began swimming across the screen – even to the point where my eyesight was almost gone entirely - and debilitating headaches became more frequent, alarm bells didn’t ring as loud as they should
Several trips to optometrists and GPs later, I was still suffering. “Have these words got halos around them or is it just me?”, I’d ask. Met with puzzled looks, I started doubting my own vision - the anxiety I felt was just excruciating. It was only when the experts at Moorfield’s Eye Hospital finally identified my condition that I could begin taking real steps to recovery.
Almost a year after my first ever Zoom call, my eyes had decided enough was enough.
Diagnosis: Severe Eye Strain caused by excessive screen time.
Talk about wake-up calls…
Emailing, Zooming, typing, Googling. They may not sound that punishing, but it doesn’t mean there’s no heavy lifting going on. When it comes to this kind of stuff it’s the ciliary muscles in our eyes that are bearing the brunt (they’re the tiny muscles that contract when we focus on close objects like screens). And it’s becoming too much for them. In a recent survey, 38% of those taking part said their eyesight had worsened since the start of the pandemic.
"It's like jogging. You wouldn't jog all day and all evening and expect your muscles to cope, but that's what people are asking their eyes to do."
Ironically, 20 20 was a bad year for the planet’s eyes…
Though we’re often fed stories of work-shy snowflakes with brittle backbones, the reality is most of us are loath to making a fuss. I saw a social post recently from an American poking fun at the uniquely British talent for downplaying problems. He joked that “If a Brit says they’re a little under the weather, call an ambulance right away!”
So, as an agency, we’ve decided it’s time to be less British about it.
Our new ‘Keep it free Fridays’ policy means no meetings internally or externally. It's a day where creatives can get their heads down and Account Managers can plan the week ahead, focus on figures and catch up on admin. We’ve now kicked this up a further notch by finishing at 2pm on Fridays whilst working from home. The weekend is time for us to rest, recharge and rebalance so we’ve made more of it. Literally.
It’s not just us either. Speaking to some of our clients and friends, it’s amazing how many are doing something similar. Larger corporates may be more cumbersome than small, agile outfits like us, but change often starts lower down the food chain.
We’ve also tightened our scheduling to put an end to back-to-back calls (the original 40-minute Zoom limit was there for a reason) and even created a fixed lunch hour. This is something that’s become sacred. The specialists I saw stressed the need to exercise both long and short vision, so those midday bumbles are a must. It’s had a knock-on effect on other parts of the day too. Whereas evening emails were once the norm, late-night inbox traffic has now slowed to a trickle. Subconsciously, we seem to have made a collective decision that our evenings are now our own.
Before the pandemic, there were some weeks I was barely at my desk. My routine changed dramatically last year, but I didn’t give myself any slack. I’m now much more disciplined about limiting my screen time, getting up every 20 minutes for a break.
As for weekends, gone are the days of endless social scrolling, TV and FaceTime. But it hasn’t been easy. You’re told to come off your screen, but the moment you do you’re stuck in this lockdown isolation (especially when living on your own like I do). You realise how addictive screen time is yet forced to accept it as a necessity. It’s a real dilemma.
In my experience, it was the anxiety of not knowing what was causing my symptoms or how serious they really were that caused me most distress. Physical and mental discord is a potent combination and burnout can come about in any number of ways. This is crystal clear to me now. As is the need for all of us to be brave and speak up if something isn’t quite right.
So next time someone asks you how you are, take a moment to think. Really think. Are you sure you’re just a little under the weather?