Q&A: How students can stay healthy during online learning

Gracyn Freiling

Online classes can present new physical and mental challenges for students. Staring at a computer screen for hours on end can cause computer vision syndrome, a broad condition with effects including eye strain and headaches, according to research from Harvard Medical School. Without walks from class to class, students must find new ways to get active and stay social. 

The Daily Texan spoke with Dr. Esther Melamed, an assistant professor of neurology at UT’s Dell Medical School, about how students can stay healthy during online classes. 

The Daily Texan: Have you seen any impact on your mental and/or physical health during the pandemic? If so, what?

Dr. Esther Melamed: It’s very difficult to be in a pandemic where many of us are separated physically from each other. We, as humans, really need to be connected to other people. I think one of the most challenging aspects of the pandemic is that it becomes much more challenging for people to stay happy because they are missing that really important social link. 

DT: For students who spend hours staring at a screen, what are some ways to alleviate headaches and eye strain?

EM: Being on the computer for most of the day is really, really hard. What I have found helpful is to try to not be chained to the chair. I think it’s also important to remember to keep to a schedule and to build in times for exercise and doing hobbies. That really can help to shift attention to prevent eye strain that can certainly contribute to headaches. 

DT: Do you think that blue light glasses are effective in reducing headaches and eye strain and promoting better sleep?

EM: I do. Blue light can definitely interfere with going to sleep at night, so glasses with blue light blockers or screens with yellow light can be helpful to calm the brain down a little bit. Another helpful tip is to dim the lights for at least an hour before going to sleep. That will make melatonin in the brain that will help the brain to get ready to go to sleep. 


DT: Now that students are spending even more time sitting in front of a computer, how important is it that they maintain a proper body posture? 

EM: It will go a long way in terms of making sure you’re as comfortable as you can be in front of the screen. Whatever you can do to create an ergonomic setup for the computer — (having) a comfortable chair, or (even) a standing desk (would) all be really good ways to make sure that you aren’t scrunched over, which (could) contribute to strain and headaches.

DT: How can students maintain their physical health during this time?

EM: It’s really important to sleep and exercise. I would highly recommend going for a morning jog before classes start. The vitamin D that you get from the sun goes a long way toward both helping the immune system and giving you energy. That’s a really great charging battery for the rest of the day. I would really recommend taking at least 10-15 minutes every couple of hours to walk away from the screen.

DT: There’s a great deal of stigma around mental health concerns that could make students nervous to seek out help. Do you have any thoughts on how to overcome that?

EM: It’s really important to not give into the feeling of the stigma. I can tell you from a lot of conversations with patients that the second you start to talk with someone you trust, you realize that there’s just this big burden that is lifted off your chest.