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Have Headaches and Dizziness? Here's How to Cure Your "Digital Concussion"

Life in lockdown can strain our eyes and brain. But there are simple fixes.

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May 19, 2020 3 min read

Headaches. Dizziness. Dialed pupils. Discombobulation.

Have you experienced those problems, as you endlessly pound away at your computer during lockdown? Comedian Nicole Arbour did, and so did many of her friends. “I was at the point of not being able to work,” she says. “The symptoms were so bad.”

In search of a solution, she sent an Instagram DM to Andrew Huberman, a professor of neuroscience and director of the Huberman Lab at Stanford University. “It immediately made sense,” he says. “All the symptoms have deep roots in the biology of vision and in brain science.”

After discussing the problem, they came up with a term to describe what Arbour and many others are feeling: It’s a “digital concussion.”

And there’s good news: Digital concussions are very treatable.

First, a caveat. Doctors throughout history have wrongly, often hilariously claimed that technology will physically harm us — and the “digital concussion” is not part of that history. Huberman is using the term “concussion” metaphorically, to describe a set of symptoms. An actual concussion involves damage to the brain, and Huberman says “there is zero evidence that up-close screen time damages the brain the same way a physical insult to the head does.”

However, our locked-in lifestyles can put a lot of strain on our eyes, which can lead to very real pain. Assuming you have no other active ailment that may be causing these symptoms, Huberman suggests trying the following fixes:

1. Get light during the day. When we’re inside all the time, we’re not getting the kind of natural light that our bodies are used to. “Get some sunlight exposure to your eyes in the late afternoon,” he says, and do it without sunglasses. If you can't step outside, spend some time near a window.

2. Look around, intentionally. In our homes, we’re often up close to things like screens and walls. That’s straining, and can be especially bad for children. Huberman suggests shifting your perspective. “Keep your head and eyes stationary — if they move around a little bit, no big deal,” he says. “And instead of looking at one point, without moving your eyes, just kind of dial out your gaze so that you can see the ceiling above you, on either side of you, and below you. You're relaxing those muscles.”

3. Relax with breath.  “If you really want to trigger the relaxation response quickly, the way to do this is with what's called a ‘double inhale,’” Huberman says. Take two breaths in, and then exhale deeply. Repeat. (Scientists are still exploring why controlled breathing calms our bodies, but many studies confirm it.)

4. Dim the lights at night. “As much as possible,” Huberman says, “try and keep the lights low in your home after the hours of about 11 p.m.”

In short, give your eyes and brain more natural variety — a mix of distances and focuses, relaxing sensations, and light that follows the schedule of the day. Arbour started following his advice, and is now happily back to work. “I really can't explain how helpful his tips were,” she says.

For more, watch the video above of Huberman and Arbour.

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