The coronavirus pandemic has made social distancing the norm and the majority of us are becoming increasingly dependent on digital technology to navigate our way through our daily lives. As we are being pushed towards an uncertain future, we are spending more time online to connect, work, shop and keep ourselves informed and entertained.
While a digitally-mediated daily life can keep you safe from the risk of infection, too much exposure to it can harm your mental health. A lot of awareness has been raised about the impact of exposing oneself to negatively hyped social media and news. The more information you receive, the more insufferable the pandemic becomes. We have seen people feel hopeless and helpless as a result of all the information they absorb, and unfortunately, which seeps in to become deeper mental health issues.
Dealing with digital addiction
Fake news and conspiracy theories can induce fear and fear leads us to fight, freeze, fold, or take flight. If you are one of the fighters, the information on the digital feeds will help you take action to serve others, hence, limiting your online time. If you react by taking flight, you may minimise the understanding of the situation and label all those people who err on the side of precaution as completely hysterical and not abide by safety rules, thus, putting yourself and others in danger.
If you freeze at this, then you will lock yourself down, and if you fold, you will need support to uplift your mental health.
It is important to keep your digitalactivity healthy during this outbreak. Let us take a look at three evidence-based tips for a healthy digital diet:
Take control: It is natural to feel powerless and scared in the face of a pandemic, but you can use digital technology to regain control and give yourself a degree of autonomy over your life. This is critical as having control promotes emotional wellbeing. So, think about ways in which you can use digital technology to help you do it. It can be something as simple as using the technology at your disposal to make plans, manage your schedule, organise activities with others, and even do online shopping where you get to exert greater choice. The key is to use digital technology actively instead of letting yourself get guided passively by algorithms. Think of digital technology as a tool that allows you to extend your autonomy and makes it possible for you to develop strategies to cope better. For instance, you can consider limiting passive screen time and balance passive viewing with more interactive screen time — playing educational games, making YouTube videos, coding a website — where you are in control.
Nurture relationships: While social distancing is good for your physical health, the isolation is not good for your mental wellbeing. Use this opportunity to digitally connect with your old friends, family members or acquaintances that you somehow lost touch with. Nurture your existing relationships by scheduling regular chats online and using digital devices to spread positive news, express gratitude to the people serving us and help others. For instance, you can order food and groceries online for friends, family members and neighbours who are not digitally enabled. Helping others can give your life more purpose and allay your anxieties. Organise group chats and regular virtual meet-ups — seeing a familiar face, even on a phone screen, can be reassuring. Use this time as an opportunity to rebuild affiliations with people who matter.
Be smarter: Our wellbeing is also influenced by our competence — our ability to rise above challenges, take smart decisions and experience a sense of achievement and degree of success. Use this opportunity to take online courses, learn new skills, and do things that engage you. Consider using digital technology to look after your body and mind during this period of confinement. You may not be able to hit the gym, but you can use digital reminders and prompts to move and exercise more, even if you are confined inside a restricted environment. Consider downloading an app for nutrition, exercise, mindfulness or relaxation. Think about how you can use digital technology to improve your exercise, sleep and diet regimens. Also, use digital technology to be smarter about your information diet. Use fact-checking services to counter conspiracy theories, unfounded rumours, urban legends, and misinformation. Reduce information intake to one or two trustworthy sources. Most importantly, get your information from reputable sources instead of regurgitating what you read on social media.
The way forward
Our increased digital dependency can be beneficial to our wellbeing instead of being a hazard. We need to use our screens positively and promote greater autonomy, connectivity and competence. To be balanced, schedule your downtime, your off-screen time, your exercise time and your fun time. This will form the core of your emotional wellbeing and hold you in good stead.
Remember not to reach for your phone as soon as you wake up. Give yourself the time to get ready, eat, and then get to your device.
We should use technology to increase our independence, further our wellbeing, and harness our inner potential. Doing so will not only help us get through the pandemic but will also ensure that we come out stronger.
The writer is an expert and entrepreneur in mental health, Director at Poddar Wellness Ltd and Managing Director at the Poddar Foundation.