I feel like these days, I spend more time in a virtual world than I do in real life. Much of my interactions with my friends is limited to texting, for example, and all of my work is done online. I have a few hours at the end of the day to unwind and spend time off the screen, but—you guessed it!—I spend many of those free hours checking social media.
Lately, I've been more wary of how I spend my free time because I want to avoid digital burnout. Folks, digital burnout is real, and it's not very good for us: It's when we've been spending so much time on screen that it begins to affect our moods and habits IRL.
Here are three ways to avoid burning out:
- Practice mindfulness.
Sleep therapist and member of London's Nightingale Hospital technology addiction team Dr. Nerina Ramlakhan describes the dangers of using technology in excess. Zombie scrolling, or scrolling on our screens mindlessly, forces us to learn how to multitask, thus making it harder to switch off our brains when we're off the screen.
Think about it: How many of you scroll through your Twitter feed one minute, read an article on Google the next, and check your email the next? Maybe you've become a wizard and do all of them at the same time (like me). See, that's not good, because it re-wires our brains to have a bunch of mental tabs even when we're not scrolling.
To combat this, try instead on focusing on one task at a time and being super present in whatever it is you're doing at the moment. If you're on your computer, put your phone away, and vice versa. Be mindful and slow down the chatter online so you can slow it down in your brain.
2. Read real books, not e-books.
When I was gifted an iPad one Christmas, I was super excited, mostly because this meant I no longer had to lug around a bunch of books every time I moved to a new apartment, or even have a bookcase. I now had a digital library where I could purchase all of my books and read them all on the same platform.
Unfortunately, the thing about reading off an iPad or Kindle—especially when you're in bed getting ready to go to sleep—is it actually stimulates your brain. Most of us read to wind down, not wake up more, which makes me think it's probably best to limit the use of reading off an iPad on your subway commute to work.
In other words, while the goal of technology is to make our lives more efficient in some ways, it doesn't necessarily make them efficient in other ways. (Plus, I don't know about you, but I just love the feeling of holding an actual book in my hands and turning the pages!)
3. Use screens in moderation.
Think of moderating screen time as putting yourself on a diet: If you indulge in sweets from time to time, that's healthy, but if you eat them all the time, they can be hazardous to your health. The same goes for using screens.
I have a friend who did a digital detox experiment: She made an effort to turn off her phone two hours before bedtime for 30 days to see if it'd have any impact on her sleep patterns. Her experiment made her realize getting rid of the phone made her calmer, so she's stuck to the habit ever since.
Screen time in moderation is linked to reduced stress, better sleep and overall improved mental health. So be aware of how your digital habits are affecting you, and then adjust your life accordingly. You may be pleasantly surprised.