fitness · mindfulness

Zooming for Mindfulness: report from a weekend webinar

You would think that a reasonable person would opt for just about anything other than 3-hour webinar on a SATURDAY, after a long week of Zooming here and yon.

Nevertheless, I opted.

My university paid (it’s so hard to turn down free things) for me to attend a Mindful Resilience and Wellness for Educators webinar. It was mainly for K-12 teachers, but the lessons applied to college students as well.

I know, I know– you are all probably a) already well-versed in, or b) heartily sick of tips for self care, wellness, resilience, bread baking, etc. during the pandemic. Me, too. BUT: this webinar taught or reminded me some things that I found valuable. Here they are.

The 20-20-20 Rule, which I had totally forgotten. Here’s what the Canadian Association of Optometrists says:

Many of us spend a good deal of our time staring at screens from laptops, computers, smartphones, gaming systems and television. This can put a lot of strain on our eyes and cause eye fatigue. When using your screens give your eyes a break.

Use the 20-20-20 rule. Every 20 minutes, take a 20-second break and focus your eyes on something at least 20 feet away.

Woman in front of computer, hands on face, bathed in blue light (not in the spa way, but the computer-for-tool-long way).
Woman in front of computer, hands on face, bathed in blue light (not in the spa way, but the computer-for-too-long way).

Then, there’s screen apnea. Really? I hadn’t heard of this, although it’s a notion that’s been around a while. My favorite mindfulness folks at Ten Percent Happier explain it here:

Over a decade ago, researcher Linda Stone noticed that a majority of people (possibly eighty percent) unconsciously hold their breath, or breathe shallowly, when texting or emailing. She called it “screen apnea.”

In the short term, screen apnea can affect our well-being and our ability to work efficiently. Shallow breathing can also trigger a nervous system “fight, flight or freeze” response if we stay in this state of breathing for extended periods of time. It can not only impact sleep, energy, memory and learning but also exacerbate depression, panic, and anxiety.

And over the long-term, not breathing properly contributes to stress-related diseases and disturbs the body’s balance of oxygen, carbon dioxide, and nitric oxide, which keep the immune system strong, fight infection, and mediate inflammation.

Fortunately, combating screen apnea can be very simple, especially if you already have a meditation practice.  Simply bringing attention to your breath and body can make a huge difference. 

During the webinar, we did several mindfulness meditation exercises, designed to address screen apnea and the tensions that cause it. One was focused on the breath. Another centered on noticing any tension in the chest, legs, arms and mouth; we tightened these areas, then relaxed. We also did an abbreviated version of the loving kindness meditation, focused on ourselves.

Finally, there’s the encouraging notion of post-traumatic growth. The webinar leader, therapist and educational consultant Christopher Willard, talked a bit about how traumatic events (like the current pandemic) can result in post-traumatic stress, but also leave open the possibility of making meaning and learning from our experiences.

Here’s a great overview article in Scientific American about post-traumatic growth, if you’re interested. However, I learned a lot just talking in breakout sessions with others about how the pandemic had shaped our teaching experiences. Everyone said they now felt a stronger connection to their students (and vice versa), and spent more time just being with them, talking and listening. I feel exactly the same way. I’ve gotten to know and appreciate all my students more since the pandemic hit. When it’s over, I really want to take with me the value and practice of slowing down and taking time to just be with my students. I’ve learned a lot from them about the importance of resilience– how they count on me to hold space for them– and how they themselves manage their own lives in the face of uncertainty and danger. It makes me admire them more, and want to be better at my job.

All in all, the webinar was well worth my time.

Readers, did you already know about these notions? How are you developing resilience during this time? I’d love to hear from you.

One thought on “Zooming for Mindfulness: report from a weekend webinar

  1. I knew the 20 thing. I didn’t know screen apnea and that totally makes sense to me. Focusing on breathing as a fix also makes sense. Thanks!

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