Over the week-end, I came across an article about Zoom Apnea by the Dr. Susan Pollak, author of Self-Compassion for Parents and the co-founder of the Center for Mindfulness and Compassion at Harvard Medical School. She was describing how many of us are feeling exhausted from all the virtual interactions that constitute our life, in the new reality in which we are now living.
Over a decade ago, researcher Linda Stone noticed that a majority of people (possibly eighty percent) unconsciously hold their breath, or breathe shallowly, when texting or emailing. She called it “screen apnea.” It is possible that a reason for our exhaustion is that we hold our breath when we are on our screens.
Shallow breathing for extended periods can affect our well-being and our ability to work efficiently. It triggers the stress response of fight- flight or freeze, which leads to changes in the biochemistry of our body and impacts our sleep, energy, memory and learning. Over time it can also be a contributory factor to depression and anxiety.
Practicing being mindful when we are on screens can help counter-act screen apnea. Here is a simple practice that we can do even in the middle of a busy Zoom meeting:
- Simply pause for a moment and notice how your body is feeling: What is your posture? Are you slumped over your phone or laptop? Is your breathing shallow? Are you tense? Are your muscles rigid? Is your jaw clenched? Are you making fists with your hands?
Try not to judge yourself, simply notice what is happening, and see if you can bring in some ease to release unnecessary tension.
- Take a couple of deeper breaths, inhaling deeply, feeling your lungs fill up with air and bring in fresh oxygen to your body, and exhaling deeply, emptying your lungs completely, excreting carbon dioxide. Then allow the breath to return to its natural rhythm. Notice how you are feeling after taking these two deep breaths.
- See if you can bring some self-compassion and make space for any emotions that might come up during this short pause. You might notice some sadness, anxiety, agitation, worry or loneliness. You can acknowledge your feelings by naming then softly, for example “sadness” or “worry. Staying with your difficult emotions without trying to change them or pushing them down. You might like to whisper some words of acceptance and encouragement to yourself, for example “it’s okay to feel like this”, “this belongs”, or saying a simple “yes” to your experience in this moment.
- Remember that other people experience this too, this is not an easy time. There is a lot that we miss about the way things used to be, and a lot of fear of what is to come, as well as concern for ourselves or our loved ones. So, give yourself some compassion for all the adjustments and changes you have had to make. If you like, put a hand on your heart and acknowledge all that you are doing to adapt to this new normal. Extend some gratitude toward yourself, even for the small things.
5. Remember to be kind to yourself, take breaks, and if you can, pause to inhale some fresh air.