Technology has the power to keep us more connected. The tiny computer in your pocket enables you to catch up on news, send a message, view a video, study for a homework assignment, look up information, and much more.
However, technology usage can create feelings of loneliness and depression. It also poses health risks.
According to the Internet Trends Report 2018, the average American adult spends nearly 6 hours a day with digital media, including smartphones, desktop and laptop computers, and other connected devices. That's up from 3 hours a day in 2009.
Stress levels are also rising. In 2017, the American Psychological Association reported stress levels were at an all-time high compared to the previous decade. Increased news consumption and social media usage—powered by technology—were cited as sources of stress.
In 2018, the American Psychological Association reported that Gen Z, the generation that has grown up immersed in technology, is also the most likely to report poor mental health.
Understanding the correlation between technology and stress and being aware of how technology use can affect your well-being is important. Spending too much time online can lead to procrastination, a fear of missing out, body image issues, and jealousy.
A study on social comparison, social media, and self-esteem found that people who used Facebook often had poorer self-esteem. Upward comparisons on social media were a major factor.
When you're constantly viewing perfectly edited photos of celebrities and your friends online, it can make you feel inadequate. No one's life is perfect, but in a filtered world online, it can seem that way.
Digital wellness is a concept that promotes the healthy use of technology. It is especially important for online students who spend so much time on connected devices. Here are things to be aware of and health and digital wellness practices that can help you maintain a healthy relationship with technology.
What Is Digital Wellness?
Digital wellness examines the relationship between technology and well-being. The Global Wellness Institute created the Digital Wellness Initiative, a think tank bringing together thought leaders including medical professionals and experts from government, technology, and education.
The Digital Wellness Initiative includes research, resources, and editorials from thought leaders to increase awareness about how to stay healthy and sustain our humanity in this technological age.
Promoting digital wellness is an important initiative because of the negative outcomes technology use can cause, such as:
- Addiction: A study published in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication found smartphones have addictive qualities. People have a sense of withdrawal when they are separated from their phones, including physiological symptoms such as increased blood pressure and heart rate.
- Impaired well-being: Another study, published in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, found using Facebook negatively affects well-being, while taking a break from Facebook increases life satisfaction and makes emotions more positive.
- Poor sleep: According to the National Sleep Foundation, electronic gadgets suppress melatonin, which can make falling asleep more difficult. Gadgets also stimulate your brain, make it harder to relax, and may wake you up in the middle of the night.
- Digital eye strain: The American Optometric Association reports digital eye strain problems such as blurred vision, headaches, and neck and shoulder pain can all be caused by prolonged internet device use.
- Other physical ailments: Frequent computer and smartphone usage can lead to lower back pain and neck and shoulder pain, according to the European Journal of Public Health.
- Social isolation: A study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found young adults who had the highest social media use time also had the highest perceived social isolation.
Other health and psychological issues that technology can cause, according to DigitalResponsibility.org, include:
- Expectations of instant gratification
- Cognitive losses
- Social skill deficits
- Hearing loss
- Sedentary lifestyle
The tools we think are keeping us connected can actually harm our bodies and our mental health. To mitigate these risks, make digital wellness a priority for your well-being.
How to Practice Digital Wellness
You are already bombarded by information in radio advertisements, on billboards, and even at the gas station pump. When you access your phone and computer for hours a day, it’s easy to experience information overload.
According to the University of California, San Diego, humans process more than 100,000 words per day outside of work. The information available to you every second can be overwhelming.
Remember these tips to stay on track with digital wellness and help lessen the physical and mental risks you incur from spending time online.
1. Take Inventory
Take an honest look at where you are with screen time. Have you experienced withdrawal symptoms if you’ve lost your phone or don’t have access to it? Do you check your phone when you don’t need to, such as when you’re interacting with family and friends?
Ask yourself the following questions:
- How does my technology use affect me at work?
- How does my technology use affect my relationships?
- How do I feel when looking at various websites and social networks?
If you notice the effects are negative, identify those as areas to improve upon.
2. Reduce Your Screen Time
More screen time means there is a higher likelihood you may face self-esteem issues and health ailments. If you've pinpointed areas where screen time is affecting you negatively, commit to reducing your time there.
For example, if you know that checking social media is distracting you at work or while studying, commit to staying off social networks during those times. Many website blockers enable you to block certain websites, or you can try turning off smartphone notifications or your phone altogether when you need to focus.
3. Consider the Value of What You're Interacting With
There are hundreds of studies about the effects of social media and screen time on health, including the ones mentioned in this article. If you care about your health and longevity, be honest about the negative effects of using certain types of technology.
The next time you scroll through Instagram or read Twitter, honestly evaluate how you feel. Do you feel happy? Jealous? Left out? Angry? Connected?
It can help to keep a journal of how you feel after interacting online. Record your thoughts for a week to see patterns. If you use Twitter for business connections, and it has helped you in your career, posting once a day on it may contribute positively to your well-being. You may access a fitness app to track your workouts and calories, which helps you stay in shape and eat nutritious foods.
But if you look at Instagram several times a day and feel deflated each time, the negative consequences may not be worth any benefits you perceive. Think about the apps, websites, and social networks you use. Ask yourself: is this wasting my time or making me feel bad, or is this contributing positively to my life? Do I spend the right amount of time with this app/network, or do I spend too much time with it?
Your email inbox can also undeservedly take up your time. Look at email newsletters you subscribe to that might divert your attention. Unsubscribe from newsletters that no longer serve you.
4. Digitally Detox
When you've identified online tools that are not serving you positively, try a digital detox. Like any addictive substance, you will likely experience feelings of anxiety or withdrawal when you commit to logging off. Those feelings will subside.
According to a Pew Research Center survey, 28% of American adults are online constantly. If you are one of those adults, start your detox slowly by scheduling an internet-free hour or two each day while you’re at home. You can journal to log how you felt during that time or the activities you did instead.
Commit to a day each week where you don't log in to certain websites, or allot a single day a week to catch up on social media and news. You might try completely quitting a website or social network for a month to see how it makes you feel.
How Will Digital Wellness Help Me in Online College?
As an online student, you are understandably required to be online often. You also probably have a lot to juggle: a job, family, friends, and studying. When your time and resources are limited as a student, seeing everything people are posting online can make you feel left out.
Feeling excluded can negatively impact your mood and distract you. This can wreak havoc on your productivity, including your studying and schoolwork. Keep your digital wellness program active to improve your work, your relationships, and your school performance.
It can help to keep your priorities in mind so that you stay on track with goals. If you want to get good grades and complete your degree so you can advance in your career, write down your objectives. Post them where you study and can see them often. Your goals can remind you of what you want to prioritize. If certain digital habits are in the way of those goals, you can adjust your actions accordingly.
Changing any habit can be challenging. Enlist a friend or partner to support you on your journey and join you in your digital detox. You can hold each other accountable, discuss how you feel, and celebrate your victories.
Make Digital Wellness a Health Goal
How you spend time online affects your health. You can't achieve optimal health without being mindful of your relationship with technology. Research has proven technology's effects on well-being. You have the power to take control of how it affects your life, your relationships, your studies, and your health.
Adopt a digital wellness mindset to improve your performance in online college. Purdue University Global offers support to help you balance school with everything else you have going on in your life. To learn more about Purdue Global's online college programs, request more information today.