Screen time and Migraine – my experience as a photographer

When I started my photography business I was naive to the balance between actually being with clients and the time needed looking at my screen. I had always thought that other photographers were exaggerating when they told me that I would spend only 20% of my time taking photographs and an unbelievable 80% at a computer screen. They were right. I’ve now had my eyes opened and realised the enormity of the work that goes on behind the scenes of a photography business that requires looking at a screen.

So the new academic year has begun and after taking a break from work in August, I was really looking forward to getting back to work. I’d barely got to my computer except to reply to e-mails during the holiday and been really enjoying time away from my desk. So the first day the children were at school I dived straight into my ‘to do list’ which would include plenty of time looking at my screen.

After the first day of ‘screen gazing’ I went to bed not knowing that I was to wake at 4am with the most excruciating pain behind my left eye, feeling sick and having a severe dislike of noise and light as well as an inability to sleep. I was all too familiar with these symptoms as I’m one of 6 million people in the UK suffering from migraine. I knew that the next few days would be hell. I can only describe it as being like the worst hangover you could ever imagine and all I want to do is curl up in a silent dark corner and sleep, however sleep is impossible and despite taking as much pain relief as I’m allowed in 24 hours, for various physiological reasons, the pain just doesn’t go away. Even walking and talking become difficult with every footstep and syllable causing stabbing vibrations through my already throbbing head.

migraine pain relief

So my involvement with family life had to be put on hold and my husband was great at stepping in whilst I tried to take things at a much slower pace. The children hardly understood that I can’t be disturbed and I tried not to alarm them when they came home from school and I’d had to go to bed. In the meantime, I was feeling like I was behind with my work and had enquiries to follow up but had a total inability to deal with any clients. You never know how long a migraine will last. Even a week on, I still have the pain just rumbling in the back of my eyes but I know that I just want to get on with things. So this got me thinking about how I and other people running their own businesses, including photographers, can avoid all the negative impact that screen time can have on us. So here are my strategies for dealing with headaches, migraines etc.

My working environment.

Natural light for working space

Now I know that not all of us have the space at home that we need to set up an office, however having previously worked in cluttered dark spaces, I’ve  realised the benefits of de-cluttering and having as much natural light as possible. Keeping your space clear of distractions and having calming neutral colours around you can really help as well as working in a space that has plenty of natural light.

Just me and my PC.

belinda grant photography

In our house anything with a screen is referred to as a ‘gadget’. This includes mobile phones, the tv, tablets and desktop screens. I’ve found that I am much less prone to distraction and am able to keep calm and relaxed if I leave all other gadgets other than my PC out of the room when I’m working. I can always get up and go and check if the phone rings and I know that if it’s important, they will leave a message.

30 minutes max.

belinda grant photography egg timer

When I took the children to Specsavers in the holidays, I thought I would ask about how much time was OK for them to be on a ‘gadget’. This is particularly important for my 7 year old, who loves screen time far too much and as any parent will know, he won’t listen to me about the dangers of going ‘googly eyed’ so I thought hearing it from the optician might sink in a bit more. So now we have a limit of no more than 30 minutes of screen time. To stop me from ignoring this, I now keep an egg timer on my desk and after 30 minutes I make myself go and do something else for at least 15 minutes to give my eyes a rest and I NEVER eat lunch at my desk….this was a really bad habit of mine!

coffee break

Talking of eye tests, now I’m past my 40th birthday (by several years!) I’ve found that my eyesight is noticeably changing. When I do my nursery shoots photographing up to 70 children in a day, after looking through my cameras viewfinder for several hours, I really struggle to re-adjust my focus and its only the next day that my sight has recovered. So I’ve now got myself into a routine of having check ups every 6 months and making sure I wear my glasses. Actually I don’t mind wearing glasses as they come in some amazing colours and can look really great!

Belinda Grant Photography. Glasses

Screen brightness.

As photographers we’re all aware that how an image appears on a screen is not the same as when it’s printed for the client. Computers are back lit, making them appear brighter than a print and they also need calibrating. I know that several photographers, including myself, calibrate the brightness of their screen to compensate for this difference. Unfortunately this means that we’re working with brighter screens than we should putting further strain on our eyes. This has been a difficult problem to solve but it really helps if I don’t sit at my computer for longer than 30 minutes.

Burning the midnight oil.

Belinda Grant Photography

Now I know that trying to balance work and home life is a real struggle particularly in the holidays when, like many photographers who are parents, the only time we get to catch up on work is when the children have gone to bed. I’ve read many a post and comment on Facebook this summer where photographers are saying that they are editing images well into the night and early hours of the morning. I’m guilty of this too. My husband will be fast asleep and although I feel like I’m enjoying some quiet time at my desk at midnight, the truth is that my brain isn’t switching off and my eyes are still working far too hard after a long day.

I’ve introduced a new rule for myself. As there’s usually a good drama on at 9pm, this is my deadline for closing down my PC and beginning to wind down. It’s working so far, as long as there’s something I want to watch on the telly! I’m also trying to not take any gadgets up to bed. I’m guilty of checking my social media and e-mails just before I go to sleep which is a really bad habit. I’ve realised how addicted I’d become to phone. Not only was I checking it at night, but also first thing in the morning. Now, when I put the dog in its bed in the kitchen at night, I also put my phone to bed; I even switch it OFF! Yes, I’ve discovered that my phone has an OFF option and I’m going to use it!  I still feel slights pangs of curiosity as I go up the stairs as to what’s on social media but I know that I’ll have a better nights sleep. What I also hadn’t realised was that my children were seeing me on my phone from about 7 am. So now I wait until the school run is over and my work day begins.

Don’t get me wrong, these strategies are all focused on how I manage my relationship and time management with my PC and I know that the world we live is not only hugely competitive, 24/7 and the screen is the backbone to the functioning of so many industries but I also know that if I ignore the ways I can manage that 80% of my business, I will undoubtedly have many more migraine attacks and miss many more days being able to do the job I love and more importantly being a mum and wife. So if I can give some advice to anyone who runs their own business that require so much screen time it would be:

  • to get an egg timer!
  • book an eye test
  • de-clutter
  • work with natural light
  • set a work start/finish time
  • focus on your PC, no other gadget
  • Find out how to switch your phone OFF!

Now I’ve come out of my dark corner and enjoying walking with Pippa again!

Belinda Grant Photography

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