Although I was put on indefinite administrative leave for berating people into changing their ways opted for early retirement from the Wellness Police, I still like to craft the occasional post on health tips to help prolong your writing careers. I do it because you guys are important to me. Sure, it’ll help me knock down my community service hours, but that’s just a bonus.
Anyway, let’s talk about your eyes. Yes. They’re gorgeous, dahh-ling. And as long as they point straight ahead and you can find your way to the coffee pot in the morning, you probably don’t think too much about them. But eye health is vital to your writing career, for reading, writing, revising, proofreading, proofreading again, and finding your way back to the coffee pot after the first four or five cups have lost their magic. Here are a few ways to protect your precious eyeballs from the ravages of computer use and keep them looking pretty in your author photos for years to come. Even without Photoshop.
1. Blink. A funny thing happens when we plop our sit-bones in front of a monitor. Our natural blink rate slows. Blinking prompts eyes to produce lubrication. Ergo…dry eyes, and that awful burning, bleary, scratchy feeling at the end of the day like you want to claw your orbs out of your skull. Over time, this can increase your chances of infection because tears help wash away foreign particles that could lodge in pores and really give you a pain in the…eye. (I should know. I’ve had surgery twice to excise stubborn styes.) Lack of eye moisture could lead to a stubborn, annoying condition called, creatively, “dry eye.” Science isn’t sure if it’s related to our sudden dependence on monitor-staring (whether that’s a blink-rate reduction or any kind of radiation a monitor may produce) or a condition of aging. Try to remember to blink more frequently when you’re at the computer. Write it on a sticky note if you have to. Until you get into the habit (or just if it feels good), comfort yourself with a few doses of soothing eye drops (the “artificial tears” varieties) throughout the day.
2. Take breaks. I know. I harp on this all the time. You get on a good writing roll, and seven hours later…well, all kinds of awful things happen in your body from sitting still that long. It also ticks off your eyes. At least look away from your screen every forty minutes or so. This will give your eye muscles a little exercise as they change focal lengths from close vision to far.
3. Adjust your monitor. While you’re making your workspace body-friendly, don’t forget your monitor. Right now (unless you’re reading this on one of those phone-type devices), extend your arm straight ahead. Your fingertips should just touch your monitor. If you look straight ahead with your head at a comfy angle (imagine a string pulling upward from the top of your skull), you should see the middle of the screen, about three-quarters of the way up from the bottom. This gives your eyes maximum roaming range while minimizing strain.
4. Drink enough water. From your spinal disks to your eyeballs, you are made mostly of water. Get some regularly.
5. Good nutrition. Mama was right. So were Popeye and Bugs Bunny. Eat your veggies, especially the colorful ones. For example, the chemicals that give beets their bright color are powerful antioxidants (lutein and zeaxanthin) linked to eye health, and especially a possible reduction on the development of age-related optical conditions like macular degeneration.
6. Use protection. Well, that kind, but also get a decent pair of sunglasses. Check the labels if you buy them from the discount rack. If they have an “ANSI Z80.3” sticker, you’re good to go. As long as you have that stamp of approval, $20 shades could be as good for your eyes as the pricier models.
7. Consider a supplement. Some ophthalmologists recommend borage oil for dry eye. There’s a complicated explanation about omega-3 fatty acids and ALAs and such that I won’t bore you with here, but see if it helps you. (Standard health police disclaimer: Check with your doctor before trying a new supplement, especially if you take prescription medication.)
And finally, if you can swing it, try to get an eye exam every couple of years, especially if you have a family history of eye problems or diabetes. Better to catch small problems while they’re still easily managed, to protect your lovely eyes for years to come.