In 2007, Linda Stone, a former Microsoft executive, realized
that even though she did breathing exercises every morning, when she sat down
at her laptop and opened up her inbox, it all went out the window. “I would be
like, ‘Huh, I was just breathing, but I’m not breathing anymore,’” she said.
Her inhales and exhales became barely detectable and shallow, she noticed.اضافة اعلان

Stone decided to conduct an informal study (“dining room
table science,” she called it), inviting 200 people into her home — friends,
neighbors, family members — and monitoring their heart rate and breathing while
they checked their email. Roughly 80 percent of participants periodically held
their breath or altered their breathing, she said. She named the phenomenon
“email apnea” and described her findings in a widely read 2008 piece in The
Huffington Post.

Stone has since expanded the concept and renamed it “screen
apnea,” referring to the disruption of breathing many of us experience doing
all kinds of tasks in front of a screen.

The issue has most likely worsened with our increased use of
screens, said James Nestor, who examined the phenomenon in his 2020 book,
“Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art.”

“You have 10 different screens open. Someone’s texting you,
someone’s calling you, someone’s emailing you,” he said, adding that we have
not evolved to be “constantly stimulated.”

Screen apnea is a manifestation of our body’s stress
response, said Stephen Porges, a professor of psychiatry at the University of
North Carolina at Chapel Hill who specializes in the autonomic nervous system.
When we’re faced with any kind of stimulus, our nervous system looks for
signals to decipher whether or not it’s a threat, Porges said.

That kind of focus and attention requires mental effort,
which kicks off a chain of physiological changes including shallower breathing
and a slowing of heart rate to “quiet” your body and divert resources to help
you focus, he said. He gave the example of cats stalking their prey; often
right before they attack, they will freeze and their breathing will become
shallow. That, he said, is essentially what is happening when you get an email,
text, or Slack message: You freeze, read, and come up with a plan of action.

The more unexpected a stimulus is — say, getting a text
notification out of the blue — the more likely the body is to perceive it as a

Although these reflexes aren’t harmful on occasion, they
become an issue if they’re switched on all day, every day, because it shifts
“the nervous system into a chronic state of threat,” Porges said. Hours of
shallow breathing can make you feel exhausted after a day of work, he said,
even if that work isn’t particularly stressful.

The lack of movement that comes from sitting in front a
screen might also be a contributor to screen apnea, said Dr. David Spiegel,
director of the Center on Stress and Health at Stanford Medicine. Disrupted
breathing is the result of “a combination of not just what you’re doing but
what you’re not doing,” he said, adding that he noticed screen apnea among
patients who worked high-stress jobs for long hours without getting much
exercise or sleep.

There are a few simple practices you can adopt for better
breathing habits, even in our increasingly screen-bound lives.

Set up breath
A few gentle-sounding alerts throughout the day can remind
you to check in on your breathing, Nestor said.

Ask yourself: Are you breathing through your mouth (often an
indicator of shallow breath)? Are you breathing at all? The awareness helps you
snap out of it, he said.

If you catch yourself breathing shallowly or not at all, try
sighing audibly, Spiegel said. Studies suggest that can be a quick and easy way
to reset breathing patterns. In a study published in January, Spiegel and his
team found that although many breathing techniques are valuable, cyclic sighing
— in which the exhale lasts longer than the inhale — is particularly effective for
improving mood.

Try larger screens
Porges hypothesizes that the larger your screen, the less
mentally taxing it can be. “As you narrow the visual field, you’re increasing
the demand on your nervous system to exclude everything outside of it,” he said.
Responding to messages on a desktop monitor often feels easier than responding
on a phone, which “is a more intensely focused constriction of movement,”
Spiegel said.

Make your breaks

People will often step away from their computers for a break
only to end up responding to messages on their phones, Porges said. He
suggested carving out a few moments to do things that don’t require too much
mental effort — such as listening to music — so that your nervous system can
switch from a state of focus and vigilance to one of relaxation.

Adding physical activity to your breaks — such as walking in
nature — is another way of restoring balance, Spiegel said. It’s a simple
thing, he said, “that can help our bodies work better.”

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