It creeps in when you're scrolling quickly through Google results on your phone. You feel it again when you're looking fast from one screen to another. That annoying feeling of nausea, like you've spent too long on a merry-go-round or bus.
The phenomenon of feeling sick when you use screens isn't all in your head. It's a real condition known as cybersickness. Essentially, it's a technologically induced version of motion sickness. While the problem might seem mild, because it's so difficult to avoid screen-based tasks, it can create real problems for productivity if you don't recognize and address the reason why you feel uncomfortable. It's important that your team or boss understand that you need to make some accommodations. And because experts estimate that 50 to 80 percent of people are affected depending the type and presentation of content, you're likely not the only one in the office needing relief.
What's happening to your body
Through the day, your body gets all kinds of sensory input that helps your brain figure out where you are in space. When motion sickness occurs, the visual message from your eyes is that movement is happening. Your inner ear and other receptors in your body, however, don't really get any other feedback that this movement is taking place. Your central nervous system gets conflicting messages as a result, kicking in a physical stress response from your brain not knowing what to really believe.
How to stop feeling sick
Because cybersickness happens due to conflicting sensory input, your aim with any remedy is to try to help your brain get a more consistent message. These are some options to try:
- Use your arrow keys instead of your mouse. This forces you to slow down the rate at which the visual data in front of you moves.
- Reduce your mouse scroll speed.
- Follow your finger as you swipe on touch screens.
- Reduce your contrast and increase your font size.
- Turn off screen notifications/pop-ups that can pull your eyes to them.
- Take short breaks where you can close your eyes or focus on something "solid" like the straight edge of your desk. Programs like EyeLeo make it easy to remind yourself it's time to rest.
- Multitask. Spend a few minutes on your screens and then switch to something non-digital. Repeat.
- Use a virtual assistant or other programs to read you digital content.
- Take longhand notes as you work. Jotting a few key points will help your eyes focus as you write, plus you're more likely to remember what you're reading or watching.
- Use common motion sickness medications available over the counter.
- Delegate! If you have someone who can do some of the digital work for you, assign it, even if it's just for a few minutes for a break. If you're not in a position to assign, see if there's a fair way to redistribute or trade work with colleagues that satisfies everybody.
- Go old school. Get the hard copy of the book you need instead of the electronic one, for example, or print out some of the documents you need for the day.
Because digital is so engrained into business and home life, cybersickness isn't about to go away. And in fact, as companies increasingly experiment with virtual reality options, exposure to situations that could produce cybersickness might only grow. Coming up with the best solutions to keep everyone safe and healthy requires workers to be honest about their experiences, so if you don't feel good, speak up about it with an genuine eagerness to perform better. You set the best practices standard for the use of any technology, not the other way around.