The Dangers of Digital Fatigue, and How to Prioritize Your Mental Health
The world is having a mental health crisis.
Our lived experience, by and large, is now happening with a screen in front of us. As a global society bound by similar tribulations and technologies, we are now getting married, celebrating birthdays and conducting business with the assistance of a device that never seems to leave our peripheral.
This is clearly not normal, and the potential long-term effects of our digitally globalized planet have yet to be fully explored.
There used to be a clear delineation between work life and home life. But because of a microscopic parasite 10,000 times smaller than a grain of salt, this no longer exists. Due to the nature of remote work, every day can turn into a workday if we let it. We can find ourselves working past lunch, dinner and through the quiet hours of the night, all while dodging the continuous onslaught of daily notifications and reminders via the accessory in our pocket.
The end of a workday can leave us feeling physically and mentally exhausted, even though we were likely wearing the most comfortable (and professionally accepted) outfit we own while in the coziness of our living space.
And now, not only do work responsibilities fill up our daily calendar, but when work is at home, so do our kids, our dog, our spouse and all the other to-dos that come with real-life.
This daily feedback loop of information overload runs us the very dangerous risk of digital mental fatigue.
This digital fatigue can lead to lack of energy, mental clarity, burnout and can cause negative psychological and physical effects to our overall well-being—let alone work output. But this isn't only about our own mental health. It's becoming increasingly difficult to notice if a colleague is struggling, as our only mode of communication is during a video conference.
The CDC recently reported that one-third of Americans have displayed clinical signs of anxiety, depression or both since the pandemic began. Does anybody think we should live in a world where one out of every three people we walk by shows signs of clinical illness? Or is it worth exploring new methods to combat the madness? And how do we find the balance between embracing a digital corporate culture to meet business expectations while nurturing our mental health? Here are four daily habits to consider adopting.
Make the time
Every day is a balance between screen-time and me-time, so we all need to provide ourselves with regular pulse checks. It now takes conscious intention to move away from a digital screen.
My advice is to schedule mental health-focused breaks and put them in your calendar like a meeting. It's one thing to take a 15-minute break to mindlessly scroll through your device, but it's important to give yourself a chance to create space and disconnect.
Disconnecting from anything electronic is the only way to reconnect with yourself. I suggest setting an actual timer, that way, you can allow your mind to rest or wander. Stand up, get some fresh air, and go for a walk. Do anything that gets you away from staring at a screen.
Even briefly closing your eyes can help bring clarity and energy, which will only make you more efficient at performing daily tasks. A PubMed study on naps found that a 30-minute nap gives the body enough time to enter deep (slow-wave) sleep, which improves alertness and memory.
So when the break notification pops up, honor the allocated time and acknowledge there's more to life than work, even if it's just for a few moments.
Set your boundaries
We are all professionals. We still have a service to provide for our customers, but continuously feeling exhausted is not good for business. It's time to set some clear boundaries and make sure all necessary parties are aware. You could start by not taking meetings after a particular time of the day throughout the week and saying no to calls on the weekend. Set up your schedule as best you can to serve the day you want to have. Even highlight in your email signature your public hours (i.e., when you'll be checking and responding to inquiries).
Creating intentional days to perform deep work tasks will also help you find more flow in your life, which will allows you sustained productivity, creativity and is a key to unlocking your greatest potential.
Know the signs
Based on a Cigna report, three in five adults (61 percent) report they are lonely, a seven percentage-point increase from 2018.
Not only are we all working alone from our own island, but our world is facing the most significant existential crisis of the last 100 years. It's okay not to feel okay. And because of information overload, the signs of digital fatigue can cause seemingly unrelated symptoms.
One common symptom is the fragmentation of your mind. We find ourselves in an endless parade of Zoom meetings, FaceTime calls and email responses. Too much bouncing back and forth between tasks can lead to feeling mentally disjointed and cause anxiety. Too much anxiety in the emotional diet can lead to shortness of temper, hasty decision-making and overwhelm. But there are more than just emotional signs.
It didn't take a pandemic to know posture should always be top of mind. Physical discomfort can quickly lead to emotional pain. Suppose we're not mindful of body position throughout the day. When this happens, it's all too common to feel soreness in our necks, head, eyes, tailbone, hands and feet due to extended hours of sitting or standing.
When these symptoms start creeping into your life, it's time to readjust.
What's at stake
Our world is in a transition period. We're collectively starting to redefine how to conduct business that has just as much focus on human well-being as it does making a profit.
The existence of an 8-to-5 workday is all but extinct, so we need to have real conversations about how things should change. What that change will fully look like is far from certain. But one thing is for sure — real change starts from the inside.
As a fully digitized and globalized civilization, it's clear our world requires that we change. We've reached a crisis where our emotional supply chain needs to be our only essential business. It takes each one of us to do our part. It's not only our right to live as fulfilled lives as possible but also our responsibility to others. Adopting these habits could fundamentally change the way our world operates.
Share this with a colleague and let them know it's okay to reach out if they start dealing with digital fatigue. They will likely extend the offer when you need it too.