What if I told you I could add on an extra seven years to your life? How would you spend that time? Would you take a trip around the world? Spend more time with family? Pursue a hobby that you always wished you had? I have asked this question many times to audiences and those were the most common three responses. I have yet for someone to tell me that seven extra years would give them more time to create TikTok videos, gain more followers on Instagram, or spend more time engaged in Zoom meetings. When we think of it this way, technology seems like a useless way to spend our time, but if current usage trends continue, youth today are at risk of losing up to seven years of life to their phone. And more time on devices also means we are at greater risk of experiencing digital overload.
Digital overload is a state of overwhelm that is associated with too much technology use. At best, it can cause a lack of focus and concentration, at worst, it can leave you feeling anxious and stressed, and can contribute to burnout. Due to the ripple effects of the pandemic and subsequent increase in screen time due to a heavy reliance on technology to work, study, and stay connected, digital overload has become more and more common. So how can we ward off the negative effects of technology and buffer digital overload and burnout?
Enter Digital Wellness, a burgeoning field of wellness that goes beyond limiting screen time to empowering individuals to use technology in a way that supports one’s thriving and well-being. Digital Wellness aims to take advantage of all the productive and rewarding uses for technology while avoiding any associated harms. Because technology infiltrates almost every aspect of our lives, from the way we socialize to the way we work, it has the potential to negatively impact our physical, emotional and social well-being. To be clear, it is not about trying to escape technology, but rather living a healthy and balanced life with it. Digital wellness strategies can effectively buffer the negative effects of technology and promote healthy well-being. So how can this be achieved?
1/ Think quality over quantity. Although there are recommended daily screen time limits for babies and young children to promote healthy development, when it comes to teens and adults, many are relying on technology to work and study; therefore, limiting screen time is not always a viable option. Instead, it is best to assess the quality of the interaction with technology rather than the quantity of time spent on it. For instance, twenty-minutes of late-night doom scrolling on social media will have a much more negative impact on our well-being (and sleep!) than sixty minutes of FaceTime chatting with friends or family.
2/ Commit to tech-free time. Unplugging on a regular basis helps to maintain a healthy balance between in real life (IRL) activities and the digital world. It also allows us to focus on our face-to-face (F2F) interactions when we spend quality time with others. The next time you go out for dinner with a friend or family member, avoid having your phone on display and focus on your F2F interactions.
3/ Use your phone with intention. We have all been there. You pick up your phone to see what the weather is going to be like and 30 minutes later you are still on your phone immersed in social media feeds. Whenever possible, try to engage with devices intentionally and purposefully. This type of deliberate use requires some degree of self-awareness, as you will need to pay attention to what you are doing (or not doing) at any given moment. Limiting time spent on your phone for intentional usage only will help to avoid the addictive, on-the-go, endless scrolling behaviors that are not productive.
4/ Create digital boundaries. We are constantly bombarded with emails, text messages, and app notifications, all of which can lead to overwhelm and digital overload. To counteract these effects, we must create digital boundaries. Smartphone settings can be utilized to prevent unwanted interruptions and notifications can be silenced or blocked. App blockers can also be used to stop unwanted interruptions and tools such as “inbox when ready” are useful for batching emails instead of answering them one-at-a-time as they come in. You could also take it one step further and remove your phone from your work or study area altogether. This helps keep you focused on the task at hand, rather than being tempted by your phone’s mere presence.
5/ Engage in digital self-care. Undoubtedly you will at some point engage in periods of prolonged tech-use and that can be physically demanding on the body. It is imperative to regularly ‘check-in’ with yourself to see how you are feeling. Take time to rest your eyes from the screen, move around, stretch, and get some physical movement. Not only will you feel better after the break, you will also benefit from enhanced focus once you return to your original task.
Digital wellness encourages individuals to reflect on the impact technology has on our lives and assess the role it plays in our overall health and well-being. Perhaps the next time you are feeling an onset of digital overload, test out one of the practices above and see for yourself how digital wellness strategies can help you maintain a healthy tech-life balance.
Lisa Pender is a passionate Digital Wellness educator and speaker, and is the founder of Digitally Well. She works with businesses and post-secondary institutions to provide impactful workshops, webinars, and consultations on the intersection of digital well-being and performance. Lisa is a sociology professor at Mohawk College and has been teaching in higher education for over fourteen years. She holds a Master of Arts degree from the University of Waterloo, a B.A. from McMaster University, and achieved her Digital Wellness Educator certification from the Digital Wellness Institute. Lisa is also a figure skating coach of 25 years who lives, volunteers, and works in the Hamilton, Ontario area.