An epidemic in a pandemic: The rise of Text Neck syndrome for home learning and teaching remotely.
“I can’t believe I used to wake up early, leave my house wearing suit, tie, and squash myself onto a packed train to go and sit in front of a computer”. This tweet triggered all the emotions of 23/03/20 when the Prime Minister announced lockdown and restrictions for us to work from home. Both employers and employees were in utter panic, no training had been provided, no one seemed clear how we were going to work from home, although equipment was provided the switch was sudden. Ohh there was a lot to learn in a rather short time, and on top of that, there was a deadly pandemic raging throughout the world. Notwithstanding, within a couple of weeks many were familiar with Zoom and Microsoft Teams.
Fast forward to today and many are perhaps reaping the benefits of remote working, such as saving money from not commuting, more effective team meetings, less office politics, I could go on, as someone recently succinctly put it, “this is probably the only ray of light amid darkness.” With the many benefits to come with it, life has somewhat been simplified but, however, a new trend has emerged alongside remote working, known as ‘Text Neck’.
What is Text Neck? Glad you ask, Text neck is a term used to describe neck pain and damage from looking up and down at your computer, or looking down at mobile phones, tablets, or other wireless devices. The prolonged and repetitive use of these devices with little movement is what causes the neck and shoulder pain and damage to the spine. Some refer to it as the ‘Tech Neck’ and others ‘Text Neck Syndrome.’ Although initially commonly associated with texting, today it can be related to many activities most common of which is remote working, engaging in social media, chatting, or playing video games. You see education has also changed forever whereby now most teaching is undertaken remotely and on digital platforms (Hybrid model) because of COVID-19. Many believe that this model of education is the best way forward with many significant benefits of which I have tasted as a lecturer; we can reach out to more students more efficiently and effectively no matter their location, which means more international students without the hassle of student visas, accommodation costs, being away from loved ones and so on. However, the more popular remote working is becoming the more popular ‘Tech Neck’ is becoming from spending prolonged times at the work desk in front of a screen sitting in a bad posture, and during our breaks what do we do?, yes…we switch to the phones and gadgets for updates on twitter, Instagram, or funny addictive videos on tiktok.
Signs of text neck: Headaches, stiffness of shoulders, postural change, pain in the neck, back, hands, arms, shoulders, wrists, fingers, elbows, tingling or numbness in the upper extremities, soreness in the neck, the list goes on.
Although almost all of us are at risk because we are digitally prone, students are most the affected. So how is remote learning impacting the students’ mental wellbeing? Well, here is the thing, remote learning fosters feelings of isolation, disconnect and loneliness which may cause stress and distress. Boundaries often become blurred especially when students don’t know when to switch off and do other things, some feel guilt that because they’ve been home, they haven’t done enough so they keep going, this gradually affects their motivation and productivity leading to burnout. With online classes and having to keep up with what’s happening on social media, to keeping in touch with friends, they spend prolonged periods in front of a screen, and we know that use of mobile phones has increased during the pandemic. This has left some students addicted to their smart phones and several studies have indicated that social media may lead to low self-esteem issues, anti-social behaviours, and unhealthy snacking amongst many others. To some students who are good with boundaries once they switch off, they have a nap and then this may end up disrupting their circadian rhythms e.g sleep which then impacts on mood.
Prevention of Text neck syndrome: Maintaining good posture is one of best ways to avoid ‘Tech Neck;’ by sitting with the body aligned perfectly maintaining the spine’s natural curvature. Picture yourself with your head being pulled upwards towards the ceiling by a string attached to the top of it. Avoid slouching, sit squarely to your screen, and minimise looking down for prolonged periods time. In addition to that, try holding your phone at eye level as much as possible, and ensure you have frequent breaks in between, if seated get up and walk every 20–30 minutes.
The PM Boris made an announcement on Wednesday 8 December, where he shared that the Government may be bringing in more Covid measures within the new year. This may mean another difficult winter and holiday season. However, remember there is support available. Most universities now have counselling services, alongside mental health, and wellbeing advisers, many of whom are specialized in supporting students.
Students Unions may also help with basic life advice and Signposting to University facilities. Student minds offers support, so does the Big White Wall. Almost all GPs in the UK are connected to a Talking therapies service — ask to be referred or self-refer for free support. There is also a plethora of self-support through psychoeducation with leaflets for many conditions available to download at; https://web.ntw.nhs.uk/selfhelp/
As if the above isn’t enough damage, worth noting that this pandemic could also contribute toward high healthcare costs and demands, longer waiting times for support as well as time off school/work due to sickness leading to shortages everywhere. I guess what am saying is; try to be patient with yourself, remember people don’t care about you as much you care about you, don’t overthink about any awkward interactions they probably forgot already, don’t overwork and lastly, it’s not your job to fix what they won’t, and your worth is not based on what you do or achieve.
Ronalds Busulwa is a Mental Health Lecturer, MH nurse, Addictions Therapist and PhD student with special interest in student mental health.