Due to the COVID pandemic, we live in a world that still feels rather uncertain and an ever-growing digital nation that is now experiencing high levels of listening fatigue. We have taken to digital tools, platforms and accessories to reach out and communicate with family, friends - as well as constantly communicating with colleagues as we work remotely. The clear distinction between work life and home life doesn't exist, the balance has tipped and we are experiencing every moment of life on our screen in front of us. Doing everything digital is now the modern-day workforce.
Skype, Zoom, webinars and other digital platforms have become our lifelines to communication, our way of 'keeping in the loop' and our everyday necessities. However, with this comes the after-effects of blue light, distorted viewing and strained listening - and that's for people who have 'normal' hearing. Imagine the effects of all this digital access to those with hearing loss. Digital fatigue (or digital fatigue syndrome) and listening fatigue are real, relentless and growing!
Digital fatigue or digital fatigue syndrome is mental exhaustion that is a result of watching, listening to and experiencing large levels of digital tools and apps.
Digital listening fatigue is due to prolonged exposure of auditory stimulus. Listening fatigue symptoms include tiredness, pain, discomfort and loss of sensitivity in some cases.
People with hearing loss are challenged all the time with hearing, so this type of fatigue unfortunately hits them harder and faster. Those with hearing loss are known to have fewer stimuli than those with normal hearing, so it increases the symptom and episodes of listening fatigue.
In short, hearing loss makes you tired. The reason is that our brain gives us the ability to hear and understand speech and sound. The hair cells in the inner ear turn these sounds into electrical signals through the auditory never and straight to the brain.
With hearing loss, the brain has to work much harder to make sense of and process all the gathered information it gets from the inner ear, which you can imagine - is both physically and mentally exhausting. Now add digital fatigue into the mix and the combination can be debilitating.
Digital fatigue and listening fatigue can take various forms. These can be twinges in the back of your neck, eye twitching, eye pain (digital eye strain), intense headaches, dehydrated and sagging skin and loss of sleep. The increase in 'blue light' experience can change our skin cells and ultimately how much Melatonin (sleep hormone) we produce. This decreases the quality and duration of our sleep, so we are left feeling exhausted, unmotivated and unable to focus.
Set an alarm for yourself to monitor your screen time, so you always make room for breaks - especially after long virtual meetings. If you don't wear glasses, you can purchase 'blue light' glasses that will filter out this and protect your eyes against potential future damage. These glasses are called digital anti-fatigue lenses.
When you do stop for a break, don't forget to step away from your screen and desk and move! This will increase your lymph flow, connect your muscles and improve your posture. Taking a short walk for some fresh air will also boost your mood and decrease stress.
We all know how important sleep is, but it is even more important to combat the unforgiving symptoms of digital fatigue. Keep to a strict bedtime routine and ensuring that you don't use your screen an hour before you sleep will help you wind down and relax after the stresses of a full day of digital meetings.
Even though we may be working remotely from home, we still need to wear our hearing aids every day - it keeps the brain active and continuing to process sounds. These devices are also very successful in reducing background noise, which you experience in digital conferences like Zoom.
You can also direct all your audio straight to your hearing aids and sync to Bluetooth assistive devices to make your digital working life much easier.
Here are a few tips on how to make your virtual communication easier with your colleagues and family.
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