As much as we try to digitally detox, most of us are still slaves to the screen. We spend nearly seven hours staring at screens every day—a big chunk of that checking our phones upwards of 150 times a day. Our need to be connected to the digital world has gotten so out of hand that people are now being diagnosed with nomophobia, a fear of being without their mobile device.
But our screen obsession is more than just a sad social commentary: It’s causing short-term discomfort and potentially long-term damage to our bodies. Seven in 10 millennials today report digital eye strain, which includes a cocktail of symptoms (dry eyes, headaches, and lack of focus) that result from having our eyes glued to screens all day.
The simple act of staring isn’t the problem. “Just using your eyes doesn’t hurt your eyes,” says Lisa Park, M.D., an ophthalmologist at NYU Langone Medical Center. But when we stare at screens, we tend to blink less frequently, which brings on those dry, itchy eyes.
We also have to worry about the blue light that our desktops and smartphones emit. The blue light sends a signal to the brain to stop it from producing melatonin, the chemical that causes us to feel sleepy. (Hello, sleep deprivation.) Plus, research has found that blue light can damage the retina over time.
Just because you have a desk job doesn’t mean you’re doomed. Park recommends looking up from your screen every 15 minutes and staring at something that’s far away to let your eyes readjust. And since we can’t get away from screens without unplugging entirely, we found seven free tools you need to stop those screen-induced symptoms.
If you can’t give up scrolling through your Newsfeed before bed, you need f.lux. The program changes the amount of blue light emitted from your screen based on the time of day—crisp and bright in the morning, and a reddish, golden hue in the evening. It’s one trick to get you to feel sleepy while still looking at a screen. (Mac, Windows, Linux, iPhone/iPad)
Haven’t jumped on the iPhone bandwagon? Similar to f.lux, Twilight will alter the hue of light emitted from your device based on your local sunrise and sunset times on Android devices. (Android)
Calise customizes your screen’s hue even further. Instead of using your local sunrise cycle to adapt brightness, Calise uses your computer’s webcam to capture data on your light environment at any given time and adjusts your screen’s brightness accordingly. (Mac, Windows, Linux)
This Chrome extension is a great way to stick to the 20-20-20 rule. The program reminds you every 20 minutes to look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds. You can even customize the prompts to include eye exercises for each break. (Chrome)
For those of us chained to a desk all day, built-in breaks are a necessity. Enter Time Out. The app will automatically fade your screen to give you a 10-minute break every hour and a 10-second break every 10 minutes. You can even program the app to play soothing music during each break. And never fear workaholics, you can always skip a break if you can’t be interrupted. (Mac, iPhone, iPad)
Now that you’ve got your eyes in tip-top shape, don’t forget about the rest of your body. Sitting at a desk all day certainly takes its toll, but Ergonomics is here to help. The app provides desk-friendly stretches and even periodic adjustments to your computer set-up. Stretch away for a less-strained, less-stressed self. (iOS)
Sometimes visiting a webpage can feel like you’ve walked into Times Square with the overload of busy ads and full-screen photos. iReader is an extension that takes out all of the extras (yes, even those talking ads) and gives you a clean white page with all you need: the text. (Chrome, Firefox)