Wellness: stop and breathe

18 July 2016 By Stefanie Garber
Katerina Petrogiannakis

As lawyers sit glued to their computer screens, they may lose sight of the effects on their breathing and general health, writes Katerina Petrogiannakis.

Lawyers are masters at keeping up with hundreds of emails a day. We jump at the sound of our iPhones enticing us to focus on yet another email or text. That enduring bright blue light, the sacred flame from our iPhone screens, lights up our faces day and night. There is no doubt we are living in a world of hyper-connectivity, but are we forgetting to breathe?

According to Linda Stone, thought leader and former technology executive, we are. Ms Stone spent months researching and testing the physiological impacts of sitting in front of a screen and found that people either shallow-breathe or stop breathing.

The good news is, it has a name: screen apnea. Despite the obvious irony in the fact that you’re probably reading this piece about screen apnea on a screen, as it turns out this phenomenon is not so funny.


I don’t need to drone on about the detrimental health impacts of holding your breath or shallow breathing, as we’ve heard it all before. But it is worth reminding ourselves that compromised breathing does increase stress levels, and impact our attitude, our sense of emotional wellbeing and our ability to work effectively. A quick and dirty list of symptoms includes: tightness in the neck and shoulders, kicking off the autonomic nervous system into the fight-flight response and releasing the stress hormone adrenalin, thrusting us into a deep, dark world of pain (so to speak).

So why are we holding our breath? Simple, when we sit in front of our screens or stare at our iPhones, we tend to hunch, pushing our arms and shoulders forward and making it difficult to inhale and exhale fully. Add a dose of anticipation to the mix, which is generally a complimentary side dish accompanying emails and texts, and we are well and truly on struggle street when it comes to breathing.

So, top tips for reducing screen apnea?

1. Be aware. Do you hold your breath in front of your screen? When? Identify your triggers and remind yourself to stop and breathe deeply, focusing on exhaling.

2. Mobilise. Instead of calling or emailing, walk over to your colleague’s desk. Be conscious of taking breaks – get up and move around for five to 10 minutes.

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3. Conscious computing. Use technology to break bad habits. I acknowledge the paradox, but a mobile app such as Stand Up! or GPS for the Soul, or even a simple Outlook reminder, will go some way towards reducing screen apnea.

4. Improve your posture. Look at making any necessary adjustments to your chair and computer setup to improve your posture. Get a stand-up desk if need be – everyone else is doing it.

Katerina Petrogiannakis is the deputy chief legal counsel - corporate and IT team at NBN Co.

Wellness: stop and breathe
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