March 18, 2021

Do You Have Screen Apnea?

by Jennifer Kane

Do You Have Screen Apnea?

Stop. Check in with your body right now…

  • Is your chest inflated or tense/tight?
  • Are your teeth clenched? Jaw tight?
  • Are you holding your breath?
  • If you just took a breath, was it only a small sip of air?

If so, you’re currently experiencing screen apnea—the unconscious breath holding or shallow breathing that occurs when people are using screens.

You probably do it more than you are aware.

It’s not uncommon to unconsciously hold your breath every time you encounter new, exciting, or scary things–like when you’re on top of the hill on a roller coaster, when the curtain is about to go up on a live performance, (sigh… remember those?) or when you’re about to unwrap a birthday gift.

However, in all those situations, after the thrill of anticipation ends, you eventually relax into the wonder of the moment and exhale.

That doesn’t happen with technology though, which has been designed to give you little thrill rides, little performances, and little presents (or even little threats) all…day…long…

  • There’s always a new post at the top of your social feed.
  • There’s always a new text or notification on your phone.
  • There’s always content being added to your streaming queues.
  • There’s always news breaking.

As a result, you are encouraged to be continuously on alert and “on duty,” which leads to continuously holding your breath in anticipation of the next new thing.

Not all breathing is good breathing

Now, you might be thinking, “Why does it matter? Isn’t all breathing good for you?”

On some level you are right.

Holding a quick, shallow breath or taking a long line of stingy, small ones isn’t going to make you pass out or kill you. (In fact, deep breaths followed by a period of retention may even improve your health). The problem is when you engage in this style of breathing all day long.

We weren’t wired to continuously breathe in such a weird way, (or sit for hours at a time doing it.) It throws our bodies into a flight/flight/freeze response, which can lead to stress, exhaustion, illness, and sleep disorders. It can worsen mental health conditions like anxiety, and it can create muscular pain in the jaw, neck and shoulders.

Stop, Drop, and Breathe.

If you suspect you have screen apnea, know that you’re not alone. One study found that 80% of people breathe this way when using screens.

You likely developed this habit after years of conditioning, so it may not go away overnight. However, there are some steps, (modeled after the old fire safety adage) you can take today to start reprogramming your body…

First, STOP. The next time you open Facebook or Netflix, pick up your phone, start a Zoom call, or check your email, pause for just a second.

Then, DROP into your body and do a brief scan...

  • Are you holding your breath?
  • Are you breathing shallowly?
  • How is your posture? (If you’re slumped forward, compressing your belly, it likely can’t inflate fully.)
  • Is your jaw or neck tense?

Lastly, BREATHE. Take a moment to relax your body, lengthen your spine, roll your shoulders back, and take one, long, deep breath. Make sure this breath is taken horizontally (using your diaphragm), rather than vertically, (using the muscles in your back, shoulders, neck, and face to help pull the air into your body.) 

That’s it.

Take just a few seconds to Stop, Drop, & Breathe when you’re using any sort of screens (even if it’s only once a day) and it will go a long way toward improving your overall health and happiness.

Photo credit: Valeriia Bugaiova on Unsplash


email apnea, Screen apnea, Zoom apnea

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