How to survive being a slave to the screen: maintaining mental health, easing struggles

Joy Webb

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My mental health has suffered during the COVID-19 pandemic. The difference between real life and what exists within the confines of our devices has been obscured to a troubling point. Minimal face-to-face human connection, along with the excessive screen-time that we are forced to endure, has been detrimental to my well-being, and I am sure many other students across the world.  

     Life is hard enough as a college student and living through a pandemic and staring at a device all day makes it even more challenging. 

     Being a student during this pandemic, taking on a full course load of asynchronous classes and a student employee now working remotely means that I stare at a screen from around 10 a.m. – 7 p.m. nearly every day of the week. Prior to the pandemic, most of my learning was hands-on and interactive, which was crucial to the quality of my learning. I struggle with focusing on a daily basis, largely because of ADHD and anxiety. This has only become worse with every aspect of school and work being entirely virtual. 

     When I look at my professors and classmates’ faces on my screen every day, it makes me feel very alone. The distinction between reality and simulation has blurred to a concerning degree, leaving me scared for the repercussions of my senior year of completely online life. I feel like I am going blind from blue light, constantly exhausted and fatigued, and my life is lacking in essential components for human happiness. A Pew Research Center survey found that 28 percent of American adults say they go online “almost constantly,” up from 21 percent in 2015. 

A person using a tablet.
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     However, I persist as many of you do, in hopes that my education will help me create a better future for all people. Here is how I have been coping: 

  • Blue light glasses 

     There are differing opinions regarding whether blue light glasses actually work, but their purpose is to filter the blue light (light that comes from a device screen and travels all the way to the retina, harmful to eyesight and brain functioning). According to a study done by Harvard Health, “The blue light suppressed melatonin for about twice as long as the green light and shifted circadian rhythms by twice as much (3 hours vs. 1.5 hours).”  

     Since lack of sleep is directly linked to depression, it is no question that blue light is affecting mental health. Blue light glasses, whether they completely filter light or not, are a good alternative to letting blue light affect your sleep, eyesight and mental health.  

  • Nature 

     Human beings are meant to be connected to the Earth. Staying inside and staring at a device, therefore, is harmful to our mental health and well-being. If you can, try to spend at least an hour outside every day. Get outside and move your body.I know this is hard for everyone to be able to do but try to make it a priority. Spending even a couple of moments in the mountains grounds my soul, my heart. Try to be in nature every day, even if it is for a short amount of time. This not only helps us understand our realities, but it brings us into the present moment. Nature is the best cure for sadness.  

     “The happiest man is he who learns from nature the lesson of worship.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature

  •  Self-help/spiritual books 

     I have had trouble grasping the reality of COVID-19 during my senior year — the collective suffering that is happening with increased poverty, mental health, homelessness, you name it — but I have found one thing that has helped. Even though I have books and assigned readings for class, I have made time, even if it is 10 minutes a day, to read spiritual and self-help books as a conscious effort to cope. Be aware that some of these readings talk about meditation and other Buddhist practices, though not limited to that. 

     One recommendation I have is “Welcoming the Unwelcome” by Pema Chödrön. This woman has single-handedly changed how I move through life. This book is a lot less about Buddhism, and a lot more about how to survive in this world. Also, “The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle has helped me become grounded in the moment, preventing me from losing precious moments in time, but also helping me realize that the past and the future have no place in this moment, right here, right now. 

     Lastly, “Wherever You Go, There You Are” by Jon Kabat-Zinn has helped me incorporate meditation into my everyday life, just like breathing. This has helped me let go, release, come to terms with and accept all that there has ever been, but also move forward and exist in the now without any other continuum of time interrupting.  

     The most important take-away from all three spiritual books I have learned is: be here, be now and be love. 

  • Be a source of good for others, but not at the expense of yourself 

     On my journey of healing, growing and blooming, I have come to realize many things. It is no question that people, and their mental health, are suffering right now. For many, this time of a pandemic and widespread crisis has driven them to awakening. For me, some important revelations include the following: 

  • I cannot let others’ emotions overcome myself. For years, as an empath and highly sensitive person, I have curled up into ball, so as not to draw any attention to my struggle. Separate your existence from that of others. Their pain does not need to be yours. You deserve to be heard and loved as much as you have listened and loved. Never diminish your feelings or heart in order to help others. It should be about both the give and take in healthy relationships. 
  • Surround yourself with people on the same wavelength. For most of my life, I have been drawn to all types of relationships, romantic or platonic, that include myself and another person who is severely unstable. Trust your intuition and energy. If these people are doing the same work toward healing and growing as you, it will be easily recognizable. Start being comfortable with saying no. Give your energy and accept energy from only those who are worthy of it. 
  • Be honest. Hard conversations have never been my forte, but these are necessary in any relationship. Tell people how you feel, not to hurt them, but for you to say what you need to, and for them to realize what they might not have otherwise. If this is the end of the relationship, it was not meant to be. All you can hope is that they will take this honesty and learn from it. This can be the catalyst for growth. 
  • Let go. If a relationship is compromising your well-being, it is OK to walk away. This is not selfish, this is self-help. Not everyone is meant to be in your life, and toxic energies have no place on a path to awakening. Be OK with the fact that nothing is infinite in this lifetime, except for your relationship with yourself. Protect and guard that at all costs. 
  • It is OK to be alone. Being alone allows for self-reflection. Anyone who is constantly distracting themselves with another person, social media or an activity to keep them busy is avoiding this time to revel in thought and existence. It is OK to be misunderstood, hated, disliked. What matters is if YOU like YOU. See yourself and your thoughts detached from your ego: stop reacting and start thoughtfully responding 
  • Set boundaries. If you are a giving person, this is especially important. You will be taken advantage of if you let it happen. People who are not able to cope and stand on their own will steal and depreciate your energy. Do not allow it. Love others but put yourself and mental health first.