Most of us spend a whole lot of time online. Consider how many times you’ve checked your phone already today. We’re often glued to a screen from the minute we wake up to when we turn out the lights – and even then, we may sit in the darkness of our bedroom, comforter pulled up, face illuminated by the glowing blue light.
For better and for worse, technology has changed the way we live our lives. While there’s no doubt that technology has many benefits, from advancements in medicine to access to information, our day-to-day usage is excessive, even obsessive. And all these screens are taking a toll on our mental, physical and social health. It’s changing how we behave and interact (or don’t) with each other. But you can have a relationship with technology without being a slave to it. Enter digital wellness.
What is digital wellness?
Digital wellness is not about tossing out your screens and going all modern day “Walden.” It means striking a balance between the online world and the “real world” to improve our health and relationships. The operative word here? Balance. We’re overstimulated by all these screens. It’s become way too much. Digital wellness means finding a way to make technology work for you, without it hindering your ability to actually live your life. What’s that look like? We’ll get to that. But first…
7 signs you could improve your digital wellness
- Sleep disturbances - All this blue light can really mess with your melatonin production and circadian rhythm, especially when you use phones in the evening hours leading up to bedtime. Checking your phone can also engage and overstimulate your brain, which makes winding down for sleep difficult.
- Shortened attention span - The multiplicity of tabs and instant gratification of social media is affecting your ability to focus. A Microsoft study shows the average attention span has shrunk to just eight seconds, a 25 percent decrease since 2000! (In case you were wondering, the attention span for a goldfish is nine seconds, so yeah, there’s that.)
- Reduced ability to problem solve - Raise your hand if you’re always Googling the answer to a question before giving it some old-fashioned thought first? You’re not alone. Research shows that people are losing their critical thinking skills by relying on the internet too much. It’s even messing with your memory by way of the “Google Effect,” or digital amnesia, which is when you forget information that you know can be easily Googled.
- Feeling like you NEED to check your phone - That sense of urgency or panic that you might miss something if you don’t check the minute your phone vibrates is a sure sign that some tech boundaries are needed.
- Not connecting with people in real life - In theory, social media is supposed to connect us to each other but its overuse often leaves us feeling more alone, particularly when it becomes a substitute for in-person interaction. All this time online and the rise of internet personalities can also distort your perception of how others look and live, giving you unrealistic expectations about your own life and leaving you feeling disconnected and less than in the process. Comparison, as they say, really is the thief of joy.
- Doomscrolling - Do you excessively scroll through bad news online? There’s a difference between staying informed and getting caught in an endless cycle of online negativity. The latter is referred to as doomscrolling and is a common coping mechanism when times are scary, sometimes even stemming from a noble sense of civic duty. The problem is that it can become an obsessive habit that enhances anxiety instead of alleviating it.
- Time management problems - Do you ever feel like you simply don’t have time to get things done? Not to burst any bubbles here but chances are you do have the time, you’re just spending it on your phone. The average American spends 4.8 hours on mobile devices every day. That’s approximately a third of our waking hours and time that could otherwise be spent getting things done.
5 ways to enhance your digital wellness
So now that we’ve identified red flags, how can we change our habits and use tech in a way that can help us rather than hurt us? Digital wellness might look like:
- Noticing how your technology use makes you feel - This is the first step to strengthening your digital well-being. Do you feel overwhelmed by your inbox? Does forgetting your phone at home make you anxious? Being attune to the effects your online habits have on your mental health can help you nurture the good and change the bad.
- Unplugging often - From taking all screens out of the bedroom to instating a digital curfew, we could all benefit from less screen time and it’s one of the simplest ways to improve your relationship with technology. Get tips for setting screen time limits here.
- Prioritizing your in-person relationships - Do you sometimes get so engrossed on your phone that you hardly notice when your partner walks in the room? Or go out to eat with friends only to spend half the time on your device? This is called phubbing, and it’s choosing your phone over in-person connection. Not surprisingly, it can be really damaging to relationships. Commit to spending time with people IRL without distractions. It’ll help you to become an active listener, spark reconnection, and may even inspire your loved ones to do the same.
- Keeping in touch with loved ones via social media or video chatting apps - It’s not always possible to meet in person. This is when you can make technology really work for you. These last few years we’ve seen a huge shift in telecommunications as we were forced to stay connected amidst physical separation. But a pandemic doesn’t have to be the impetus for keeping in touch online. Many people live far away from friends and family and thanks to technology like FaceTime or Zoom, we’re able to see each other and connect, face-to-face, from afar.
- Using wellness apps - Again, digital wellness isn’t about cutting screens out; it’s about using technology more intentionally. Wellness apps for meditation/prayer or fitness are good examples of how we can harness technology in a way that’s beneficial to our health.
At the end of the day, technology is an unavoidable part of modern life. It’s also an incredible tool that can enhance our well-being if we don’t get too distracted by it. Fostering your own sense of digital wellness all comes down to finding that tech-life balance where technology improves your life, not becomes your life.