A lot of us spend a big chunk of our waking hours stuffed into cubicles that would give a veal calf claustrophobia. We slump over keyboards and stare at computer screens two feet from our faces — and we can feel the toll this takes on our bodies (which is why an after-work trip to the gym or the yoga studio feels so good).
We can also feel the toll these working conditions take on our eyeballs. “Most of us are forced to overfocus at work,” says Rosemary Gaddum Gordon, a holistic vision-improvement teacher at Vision Educators. “There’s ‘looking’ and then there’s ‘seeing,’ and for the eyes to be relaxed, we need to have a balance of both.” Unfortunately, staring at a screen uses too much of our central vision (looking) and not enough of our peripheral vision (seeing).
Happily, there are some simple things you can do to reduce eyestrain at work…
Good: Stretch Your Neck
Overly tight neck muscles — a side effect of the less-than-optimal posture most of us assume when we’re at our desks — can decrease blood flow to the eyes and brain, which can affect vision. Relaxing your neck is a great way to relieve both eyestrain and tension in the back and shoulders. Facing forward the entire time, slowly let your head drop toward your left shoulder. Don’t force the movement. Just let gravity do the work. Take two or three deep breaths and slowly return to the starting position. Then lower your head toward the right shoulder. Do three stretches on each side.
Better: Stretch Your Outer-Eye Muscles
The muscles that control the movement of the eyeball itself like to move around and play just like the other muscles of your body. Staring at a screen locks these muscles into performing a very limited range of motion. As a result, they get tight and you feel it as eyestrain. Yoga-style eye stretches will give your eyes a mini-workout and relax the muscles that help you see. Face forward with good posture. Without moving your head, look up as high as you can for 10 counts. Then look down for 10 counts. Do the same looking left and right and in all four diagonal directions. Finish by doing slow clockwise circles with your eyes for 10 seconds, and then counter-clockwise for 10 seconds.
Best: Stretch Your Inner-Eye Muscles
Staring at a fixed object two feet away is not the way the eyes want to work. You may be stuck at a desk, but that doesn’t mean your vision has to be. Instead of having your computer screen in front of a wall, Gordon suggests setting it up so that when you look over the top of your screen, you’ll be looking deeper into the room or office. The things you’ll now be seeing — that guy from accounting, the UPS lady, the dude who never refills the water in the Keurig machine — will serve as “distractions” to keep you from overfocusing on your screen. To also keep your peripheral vision engaged, you can hang a mobile off to the side of your screen in your work station. Maybe the best tip, though, is to take a midday “vacation.” “Close your eyes and pretend you’re at the beach,” advises Gordon. “Imagine looking off into the distance, and you’ll feel your eyes relax.” You won’t have to worry about sunscreen, but — unfortunately — you’ll still be at your desk when you open your eyes again. (Sorry.)