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Screen Time: It Can Feel So Good but Be So Bad for Us

If you are spending time in front of the screen regardless, you may as well understand the impact of screen time on your Physical Intelligence.

There are positives and negatives to spending time in front of our screens. When we are working online, dopamine, (the reward chemical), is produced in greater quantities because we are able to achieve more and reach our goals faster. We are constantly experiencing novelty, and this keeps us engaged, if not addicted, over extended periods of time. That dopamine is a large part of what draws us to our screens. However, in addition to what we posted earlier this week about the negative impact of screen time on creativity, extensive screen time also leads many of us to carry a lot of muscular tension in our shoulders.

As this picture illustrates, given the extensive amount of time many of us spend in front of screens, we are experiencing a sort of reverse evolution. Here's what's happening within our bodies:

1) As we focus on the screen, very often, our eyes and head pitch too far forwards – ahead of the spine, supported by the cantilever action of the neck and shoulder muscles, which puts enormous strain on the neck, shoulders and jaw. It is crucial for us to be to be aware of jaw and neck tension as we work because the jaw connects with the cervical region of the spine and if it is tense it restricts the spinal column and interferes with information processing, memory retrieval and the collection of data by the insular cortex in the brain -- which means we can't sense or feel what is happening in our bodies.

2) The amount of time spent hunched over, with jutting chin and curved spine, also reduces the amount of space available for the lungs to expand. This raises the carbon dioxide levels in our blood, which in turn elevates cortisol levels (the stress hormone). High baseline cortisol reduces the quality of our cognitive function, along with our mental and emotional performance. This can deeply affect how we think and feel while we work. In fact, research from Hildesheim and Ruhr- University in Germany in 2014 revealed that even subtle changes in seated posture affect how we interpret and remember events.

3) By using hunched posture all day, we are literally shaping our bodies into the position of defeat or avoidance, which can lead us to feel defeated or avoid certain tasks.

All of that can have a serious collective impact. The Solution? If we are going to spend an extensive amount of time in front of screens (and let's face it, for many people, significantly reducing daily screen time is unlikely or even impossible -- aside perhaps from observing Unplugged Day), then we need to address our screen posture. It starts with finding a point of balance for the head to sit on top of the spinal column without putting strain on the neck and shoulders.

Here's how to position ourselves properly for extended computer screen time:

If you are working at a computer screen, make sure it is at eye level and that you can see well – that you have good light, proper glasses etc. Avoid frowning, because this action causes an elevation in cortisol levels and the proliferation of negative thoughts.

Alternate how you sit at your desk; sometimes bring your chair close to the desk so that your abdomen is touching it and your pelvis is right back in your chair. In this position you can lengthen the spine and balance the head while the back of the chair provides full back support. Sometimes, sit on the front of your chair with your feet firmly on the ground supported by your core muscles. If you experience discomfort, use a straight- backed chair and sit right at the back of it with a cushion or rolled up towel in the curve of your lower back.

Drop your shoulders and let your arms rest lightly on the desk; ensure your fingers move lightly on the keyboard. The height of your chair should be such that when the shoulders are relaxed your forearm is at a right angle to your upper arm, with a ninety- degree bend in your elbow.

Many people favour standing desks, or adaptable-height desks, so that they can vary their position during the day. If you do stand at a desk, ensure that your knees are not locked and that your weight is balanced between the balls of the feet and the heels.

Kneeling stools are not very good for the spine and can put pressure on the knees; you have to be careful you don’t hyperextend (arch) the lower back.

Pilates sitting balls are very good for working and for meetings because as you move towards and away from the screen, or as you think and talk, the ball rolls with you and the whole spine shifts, rather than only the head and neck pitching forwards. You can also bounce on them, which increases the movement of your cerebrospinal fluid in the spine and the brain, enabling toxins to drain away more effectively. While technology can negatively impact posture, it can also help us. There are numerous apps and gadgets now available to help embed positive habits for our posture.

In addition to computer screens, mobile phone screens can also lead to poor posture. When looking at phone screens, keep these tips in mind:

- As with computer screens, avoid hunching and contracting over your small screen devices.

If you are seated, follow the guidelines above for seated posture.

Raise the level of the phone when you are typing or swiping.

Whether seated or standing, it is helpful to use a principle we teach called "open expansive posture." Here's how that works:

Think back to a moment in your childhood when you were outdoors, perhaps running down a hill with your arms stretched open, or standing and leaning into the wind. Expand your posture and your whole body in the same way now. Spreading and opening our arms, stretching out into the space around you and taking a wide and open stance with your feet and legs (making a shape like a starfish) helps build confidence and risk tolerance. We call that the "Winner Pose" because a 2008 study showed that both blind and sighted athletes equally strike this pose on achieving competitive wins – it is an innate expression of pride and confidence.

As you strike that pose, imagine you are standing or sitting in front of a powerful floodlight and you want to let the light pass through your body from back to front. Let as much light travel through the space between each and every one of your bones so that you see on the wall in front of you the shadow of a perfect skeleton, with each bone distinctly spaced, as if the bones would float away from each other if they were not contained by muscle and skin. As you think about this, your brain is sending messages through the kinetic chain of nerves and muscles instructing your body to open and expand itself.

Next, focus on the idea of being ‘grounded’. Think about what happens when you are standing on a train or on the tube or subway with your knees locked. Are you more or less likely to fall over? If you are too tense and rigid, it is easy to topple over, so unlock your knees (by releasing calf, thigh, hamstring and buttock muscles) while maintaining your height. That will keep you from falling over. You are now ‘standing your ground’ and using an open, expansive stance. If you are seated, put your feet flat on the ground and lengthen your spine.

As you strike that open expansive pose, be aware of how it feels. How empowered you feel is greatly impacted by how you use your posture. You should notice that your thoughts become more clearly focused. Good posture enables you to feel simultaneously stronger, more present, alert and more at ease as you walk, stand and sit -- critical for counteracting the negative effects of extensive screen time.

For those of you who are really struggling to disengage from your screens, this post on cell phone addiction may help.

For more information about how Physical Intelligence can help you, your team or your organization, visit us at or order our book, on sale now.

About Companies in Motion

There are over 80 easy to use techniques and tips to build our Physical Intelligence. You can read about all of them in our new book, Physical Intelligence: Harness Your Body’s Untapped Intelligence to Achieve More, Stress Less and Live More Happily available from Simon and Schuster. (Order here.) (Multiple translations will be available later in 2019.)

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