From a social perspective, it is important for people to remember is that social media is often an ideal representation of the lives our friends lead. As a result, it is not healthy (or fair to yourself) to compare your daily reality to somebody else’s highlight reel. This is why experts repeatedly recommend developing meaningful interpersonal interactions in order to stay connected with the real world.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Greg Bullock, marketing manager at TheraSpecs, a company that creates precision-tinted glasses for people with migraine, concussion and light sensitivity. In addition to establishing himself as a premiere digital marketer who has been featured by organizations like LinkedIn and HubSpot, he has spearheaded 154% growth in revenue for TheraSpecs and more than quadrupled the company’s online viewership in just over two years. And he has hung out with Bruce Springsteen backstage. Seriously.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Greg! What is your backstory?
It is a great pleasure to share my story and insights! I began my career as a marketing specialist at a startup business incubator in Phoenix, Arizona; I had the privilege to work with some of the most inspiring entrepreneurs in the world, which ultimately introduced me to Hart Shafer, Founder and CEO of TheraSpecs. The passion that he and the TheraSpecs team have for helping people with light sensitivity get out of the dark and back to their lives is what inspired me to become part of their growing team in 2016.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
I recently had the opportunity to participate in Speak Your Migraine, a national campaign to bring awareness to the experiences of and stigma faced by people with the chronic headache disorder. In addition to the recognition of my own advocacy efforts, it was a tremendous opportunity to meet other patients and caregivers, hear their stories and ultimately give voice and visibility to the millions more like them. And ironically, it all started with a guest blog post I had recently written for a chronic illness blog.
(Required disclaimer: I was paid by Amgen and Novartis to participate in Speak Your Migraine. This content reflects my own personal opinions and was not created or reviewed by Amgen and Novartis.)
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?
Absolutely, I just recently published a comprehensive online guide to light sensitivity (also known as photophobia). I am really proud of the work our team did in sourcing the most relevant information and delivering informational value to readers. If you are interested in learning how light might be affecting your health, you can access it at https://www.theraspecs.com/photophobia-ultimate-guide/.
Beyond that, the daily thrills of changing people’s lives is a worthy reward.
Between work and personal life, the average adult spends nearly 11 hours looking at a screen per day. How does our increasing screen time affect our mental, physical, and emotional health?
I have spent the last several years trying to better understand and communicate the physical effects of excessive screen time, and how that ultimately affects our emotional well-being too. More specifically, there are countless medical studies showing that electronic device screens increase the frequency of migraine attacks, headaches, eye strain, and other symptoms in healthy individuals. Unfortunately, if you already have a chronic condition (like migraine) that makes you inherently more sensitive to light, these effects can be even more dramatic. For example, computer and mobile device screens may catalyze the onset of symptoms in different types of migraine, delay recovery time for post-concussion syndrome, and exacerbate dry eye discomfort.
What is worse, however, is that sensitivity to artificial light can hasten emotional consequences too. Higher stress, anxiety and even depression have been observed for people with chronic photophobia, even in the absence of direct light exposure. It becomes a troubling cycle; patients express anxiety around light that may trigger their physical symptoms, and they understandably either: 1) avoid those scenarios entirely or 2) endure the pain until it becomes too much, forcing them into a recovery period often within the safety a dark room. Unfortunately, both of these options are not great because they can cause feelings of social disconnection, worsening the emotional side effects that may already be building.
Can you share your top five ways people can improve mental wellness and create a healthy relationship with technology?
From my perspective, a better relationship with technology starts with addressing the physical problems that manifest from its use. If you improve your physical well being, that can directly impact the emotional wellness of an individual.
- Diagnose underlying causes of light sensitivity. The first step is to make sure you understand why the light of digital screens impacts the way you feel. If you have migraine or another chronic condition, you can work with a certified specialist to identify specific treatments that can help reduce the core symptoms, including light sensitivity. They also can suggest behavioral and lifestyle changes to minimize the negative impact of excessive screen use as well as address any emotional issues you may be experiencing.
- Do not wear sunglasses indoors. It is natural to want to put on sunglasses inside to combat the pain of bright light, whether it is from a screen or overhead fluorescents. However, this practice actually makes your light sensitivity worse over time because your eyes become accustomed to the darker view and thus more vulnerable to future light exposure. Plus, you might find that any polarization in outdoor lenses can mess with your vision while on your smartphone or computer. It is just not a good habit.
- Adopt accessibility features of your devices. Technology manufacturers are beginning to understand the harmful effects of blue artificial light on our eyes and brains; as a result, they are building in more and more settings that address these concerns. They include: night mode, blue light filters, brightness adjustments, voice search and services, and motion reduction, among others. Some may be more effective than others, so I would encourage you to try them out and see if they can make staring at your screen less painful.
- Set usage boundaries when you are in pain. If you are in the middle of a light-sensitive episode or attack, you need to let your body recover. You have to recognize that FOMO will be far more temporary if you allow yourself to heal fully because — as I’ve already discussed — intensive use of technology can delay your return to work or personal activities and increase social isolation.
- Try tinted glasses designed for screen sensitivities. A growing trend among consumers with sensitivity to screen light centers around the use of specialty tinted eyewear. There are countless brands of blue light blocking glasses for computers or mobile devices; not only are they lighter than normal sunglasses (and thus do not risk dark adaptation), but they can allow for extended periods of pain- and symptom-free use. For example, FL-41 tinted glasses have been shown to reduce light-triggered migraine attacks and photophobia by 74 percent.
51% of Americans say they primarily use their smartphone for calls. With the number of robocalls increasing, what are ways people can limit interruptions from spam calls?
As a marketing manager, it is probably not surprising to know that I receive a lot of spam or solicitation calls — from people trying to sell me everything from advertising placements to software subscriptions. That is why I recommend being scrupulous about when you give out your personal cell phone number. For example, I only include the main company phone number in my email signature. I am convinced this has cut down on the number of telemarketer calls I receive, and at minimum has given me greater control about how and when I engage with them.
Of course that may not always be a feasible solution. If spammers do get a hold of your personal number, just remember: you do not have to accept a call from a number you do not recognize — let the person leave a message if it is truly important. And if they do get you on the line, you can simply request to placed on their “Do Not Call” list.
Between social media distractions, messaging apps, and the fact that Americans receive 45.9 push notifications each day, Americans check their phones 80 times per day. How can people, especially younger generations, create a healthier relationship with social media?
In addition to screen light, the motion of endless scrolling and social media content can lead to discomfort for sensitive individuals. Simple tips that can reduce this physical risk include: increasing on-screen text size to minimize the strain on your eyes; disabling autoplay of videos, which can protect you against offensive or turbulent imagery; and activating closed captions on YouTube or Facebook.
Secondly, from a social perspective, it is important for people to remember is that social media is often an ideal representation of the lives our friends lead. As a result, it is not healthy (or fair to yourself) to compare your daily reality to somebody else’s highlight reel. This is why experts repeatedly recommend developing meaningful interpersonal interactions in order to stay connected with the real world.
80% of smartphone users check their phones before they brush their teeth in the morning. What effect does starting the day this way have on people? Is there a better morning routine you suggest?
Your morning routine is actually directly affected by the manner in which you went to bed the night before. Did you spend the last hour looking at social media on your phone or checking your work email on your laptop? If so, then you may have unwittingly disrupted your sleep by delaying the production of a hormone called melatonin. As a result, you should not be surprised if you wake up feeling less alert and more fatigued. This can then be compounded by the distractions of social media, daily news and text messages that await us in the morning. All this might add up to a less productive and less “physically sharp” day, no matter your specific obligations.
I recommend putting the screen down in the last two hours prior to bed and ensuring that you get a solid 6–8 hours of sleep. Then you should allow yourself to wake up naturally — without an alarm clock — as often as possible. It is okay to check your phone upon waking up to make sure there are no emergency notifications, but avoid the obsessive checking of which we are all guilty. Instead, prepare yourself physically for the day; some people like to exercise first thing in the morning or clean up in the shower before work. Either way, I think you’ll find a more refreshing perspective on the day.
Can you please give us your favorite life lesson quote?
“Show a little faith, there’s magic in the night.” — Bruce Springsteen
You can’t go wrong with the Boss.
A personal saying of which I am particularly fond: Don’t regret not doing it. Ironically, I was asked to share advice to a group of social entrepreneurs in five words or less, and this is what I came up with. Since then, I have used it to inspire me to take action when I might otherwise feel anxious or apprehensive.
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I am doing it! It is a long journey, but the mere fact that thousands of people every single day are learning about the unique ways in which light and light sensitivity impact their health is motivation for me. I want to continue to share thoroughly-researched, easily-digestible content that improves lives. And the best part is that the opportunity only continues to grow as more and more patients seek out answers online for their health concerns.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
You can follow me personally on Twitter: @azbullock
You can follow TheraSpecs to get more tips and information about light sensitivity.