128. Look Up!
Because looking down might be part of your "dizziness" problem.
Let me tell you a little story about my eyes and my feet. Sounds exciting, doesn’t it?
Feeling a bit off balance (many of you will call it dizzy) has been one of my primary anxiety symptoms for many many years. If I’m having an anxious day, which can certainly happen to me sometimes (because I am human), I will likely feel that sensation.
Anyway, back in days of old before anyone ever heard of COVID-19, I spent my days working on screens, but not all the time. I walked. I went to the gym. I biked. I socialized. I went to my office. I visited customers in my old technology business. Yes, looking at screens was always a big part of my days, but there were plenty of breaks from that as I moved through normal life.
Then normal life stopped happening. The world shut down, we all stopped going places, and all those regular life breaks that took me away from screens went away. What was left was …. screens! In the early days of lockdown I was doing more live streams and responding to an increased demand for interaction in the community - which I was happy to do. But the result of that was that I was spending WAY more time looking at screens. Often, that meant looking DOWN at a phone or tablet that was in front of me. I was spending a very large percentage of my waking time looking down at screens that were no more than about 30 inches from my face, most times even closer.
Then I discovered that if I went out for a walk, I would experience that same off balance sensation that I used to associate with being anxious. Except I wasn’t anxious. I was a bit off balance, my eyes were having a difficult time keeping up with the world around me, and I was literally drifting to the right ever so slightly when I walked. It wasn’t noticeable when walking from the kitchen to the living room, but on a long walk down my street it was very noticeable for me. I was also experiencing neck pain and I found that I was losing mobility in my neck. My eyes were also wigging out and I found the I was having a difficult time focusing and tracking objects in the distance.
This was mildly concerning to me, and as it continued to get worse, that concern became more than mild. Was I having some kind of vestibular issue? Was I experiencing some anxiety that I wasn’t aware of? Is my vision changing again? Have I developed some kind of muscular imbalance?
No, to all of that. The issue was that I was spending far too much of time time looking down at computer screens, phone screens, and tablet screens. My head was tilted and my eyes did nothing all day but focus on tiny pictures and text that were close to my face. My body was adapting to looking down with close focus as its default state, so looking up and looking at the actual world became a bit of a foreign experience. True story!
Once I started drastically limiting my screen time and more actively managing my desk time, things improved quickly. I made it a point to get active again and to spend time looking UP and into the world. My neck stopped hurting, the stiffness went away, my eyes got used to distance focus again, and I was no longer drifting when I walked. Imagine that!
So why does this story matter to you? Maybe it doesn’t and you’re bored to tears now. But maybe one of your default reactions to being anxious is to doom scroll through Instagram, read my Facebook group furiously, or bury yourself in YouTube or Netflix. Many members of our community use screen time as a soothing, escape, and safety behavior which means that many wind up spending hours upon hours looking DOWN at small screens every day. Then they also wind up feeling that off balance, slightly dizzy disoriented thing where the world looks strange and their vision isn’t exactly right. Which then makes them anxious, which often drives them to look down again and engage with a phone screen for another hour.
I’m not giving you a cure for dizziness or an instant fix for DP/DR, but I might suggest that spending large portions of your days staring down at handheld devices is not helping you with these things, and could be making them worse than they have to be.
So … LOOK UP. Give it a try. Think about your screen habits and how you can cut down on screen time. Start looking at the world again. It might feel weird when you first do that, but give it a chance. Let your eyes look into the distance and learn to focus and track again. Give your body a chance to be upright again and learn to move like it used to.
Look up. Because in the end, that’s where life, and therefore recovery, is anyway.