Updated: Sep 12, 2021
Years ago, last century - in the 1980s to be exact, I was working as a journalist in the Leader Newspaper Group headquarters in Blackburn, Victoria.
The building was on the site of the original Blackburn Coolstores from the 1920s where fruit from the local orchards of Doncaster and Templestowe was held before shipment around Australia and overseas. This probably lends credence to the story I was told that the building was formerly a fruit bottling plant which explained why our large modern office complex had no windows.
Picture: Leader Newspapers
We would descend the steps from the foyer (on the left of this photo), into the large editorial department where we would toil away until we emerged mole like at lunchtime and squint at the bright blue sky as we escaped to the nearby shops of Blackburn. You can probably see why I enjoyed my Tuesdays so much. This was the day I organised to go on the road and do interviews in the Diamond Valley and Eltham areas, the region I covered as the local report for the Diamond Valley News.
This was long before computers arrived in newspaper rooms. While I had started my career typing on an Olympia typewriter which I had to battle with the ink ribbon constantly, at Leader typing was done on electric typewriters, where a 'golf ball'
would spin around for the relevant letter to print on the page. I thought that was revolutionary (pun totally intended).
The amazing IMB electric typewriter and the revolutionary 'golf ball'.
The point is, my eyes would get sore from writing, looking at concrete walls, glass partitions, and other people labouring away at their desks.
I would find, as I toiled away, that my eyes would drift across to the solitary indoor plant that sat in the corner. It was around this time that I stumbled upon the research that said looking at green vegetation - or even just the colour of green - was soothing to sore eyes.
Which brings me to the point of this blog.
Despite being in lockdown for more than 200 days, I try to keep myself busy working in the garden or wandering through the bush tracks, at Kanturk Country Retreat, where I live as much as I can.
But I found, while feeling rundown recently and binge-watching a television series that was so engaging I watched it into the early hours of the morning, my eyes started to ache. They felt gritty and swollen as if I'd been exposed to a dust storm and I needed to close them for a while just to get relief. I thought about how many other people may have found themselves in this situation during lockdown.
Life in lockdown has meant whole families, children in particular, are spending a lot of time in similar circumstances to my early foray into journalism - staring at walls or now computers, phone screens, or televisions. With only one hour a day allowed outside to exercise, there is little reprieve for our sore eyes.
According to Dr Gary Helting OD in his article in All About Vision; Digital Devices and children; Understanding the impact for their eyes, children need help managing their time in front of screens and should learn the 20-20-20 rule. The rule recommends that for every 20 minutes spent on a screen, you should turn away and focus on something 20 meters away for 20 seconds. This is essentially an exercise for the muscles of the eyes.
According to the Business Insider article; What Staring at a Screen all Day does to your Brain and Body, spending long hours looking at blue-light screens is having an affect on our brains and optical health. Time will tell how these changes will play out in our lives.
According to the article Research Progress about the Affect and Prevention of Blue light on Eyes, we need to take care in exposing our eyes to the blue light of screens particularly at night when the secretion of melatonin may be disrupted and in turn affect our sleep routine. Less well known are the benefits of looking at greenery.
According to this article; why we all need green in our lives the colour green; ...the human eye sees green better than any color in the spectrum ... in the middle of the spectrum ... at around 555 nanometers. This wavelength is where our perception is at its best because our eyes don't need to strain as hard.
Gazing across this green vista is my balm for sore eyes.
Many studies have shown the benefits of being in nature on our mental health and our mood in general, but could a walk in nature actually lift the mood of people who are depressed? The article Interacting with Nature Improves Cognition and Affect for Individuals with Depression explored the difference in impact a nature walk in a park could have as opposed to a walk in a built-up cityscape on people already suffering from depression. It found that memory and mood improved noticeably in the group while walking in the parklands.
Hopefully we will soon all get to spend more time in nature whether it be in our back yard, at the local park or (for those lucky enough) on a bush walk. But in the meantime, while many of us are still enduring rolling lockdowns, try to balance digital screen time and strain on mental health by allowing your eyes to occasionally gaze on something green, whether it is an indoor plant, a tree out the window or a walk in the park. You may be giving yourself a natural lift in your mood, and your eyes that well-earned break they deserve.