Technology has become such an essential part of our lives that it’s now almost impossible to avoid it unless you’re living in Amish Country. Every day, we use digital devices to communicate, learn and connect with the world around us, often without thinking twice. But as technology finds its way into more and more spaces, we need to be mindful of how we’re using it to make sure that it’s not having a negative impact on our lives. By actively practising digital wellness, you can put your wellbeing first and make sure that the technology you use is enriching your life rather than taking it over.
What is digital wellness?
You might think that digital wellness means turning off your phone occasionally, taking a break from social media, or going on a digital detox retreat for the weekend – but it’s much more than that. Digital wellness is about being intentional with your technology use in everyday life and taking steps to make sure that it isn’t negatively affecting your mental, emotional or physical wellbeing. Not all technology use is bad – maybe you use devices or apps for work, to track your health and fitness, to navigate when you’re driving, or to connect with family and friends – but everyone is different. That’s why digital wellness isn’t about applying a one-size-fits-all set of rules, but about finding the balance of technology use that works for you and your lifestyle. In other words, digital wellness is about consciously using technology in a way that enhances your life without diminishing your wellbeing.
Why is digital wellness important?
It’s hard to believe that only a few decades ago, we didn’t have the Internet, let alone smartphones or apps. And while this wealth of technology has made our lives easier in many ways, it’s also proved to be a big distraction and created problems that we couldn’t have anticipated. Technology is impacting our mental health, making us less social and altering our perceptions of what is real, “normal”, and important. We’re spending more time alone on our devices, and we’re not having real conversations anymore. Instead, the short and often wordless interactions that we have online are leaving many of us feeling lonely, depressed, and secretly suffering from imposter syndrome.
When we do choose to be social, technology is affecting our relationships. We’re not spending quality time with our partners, family, or friends because we’re preoccupied with the world on our screens, even when our loved ones are sitting right in front of us. We’re also arguing more often because of it. Digital distractions have made it difficult for us to maintain focus in other areas of our lives too. Whether it’s doing household chores, finishing work projects, or simply trying to read a book, the lure of digital devices is often too great to resist, knocking us off track so that it takes longer to complete even the most basic of tasks.
Technology is also influencing our emotional wellbeing. We’re becoming addicted to our devices and to the constant consumption and creation of content, which is affecting our moods, thoughts, and feelings. We’re anxious and overwhelmed, stressed out, burned out, and unable to relax or switch off. As if that wasn’t enough, technology is causing our physical health to take a serious nose dive too. We’re not getting enough exercise because we’re sitting in front of screens all day long, and this lack of physical activity is increasing our risk for problems like obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. Meanwhile, we’re suffering from everything from eye strain and back pain to neck ache, insomnia, and swiper’s thumb.
If we continue this way, we’re going to find ourselves in a bad place – as individuals and as a society. But the problem grows exponentially worse by the day. Technology is evolving at an unprecedented rate that shows no sign of slowing down. And each innovation generates fresh challenges for our health and wellbeing. That’s why it’s never been more important to proactively develop healthy habits around your use of technology.
What are the benefits of creating a healthier tech-life balance?
Creating healthier digital habits can offer you many personal benefits. The exact nature and scale of these benefits will depend on your starting situation and the tech-life balance you adopt. However, most people can expect to experience some or all of the following:
- improved mental health
- increased productivity and focus
- improved sleep and sleep quality
- less anxiety and reduced stress levels
- improved physical health and greater physical activity
- increased social interaction and connection
- improved mood and emotional wellbeing
Why is it so hard to maintain good digital habits?
Most people can manage a “digital detox” – disconnecting from their digital devices for a set period to recharge and rejuvenate. But what about day-to-day digital wellness? Why is it so hard to break away from our screens, even when we know it’s not good for us?
Part of the reason is what’s known as persuasive design. Websites, apps, and other digital products are designed to be addictive. They deliberately use behavioural psychology techniques to keep us coming back for more. They’re also designed to capture and hold our attention once we’re there because this is how tech companies make money. Behavioural psychologists have long studied how our environment and the cues around us can influence our behaviour. Silicon Valley has simply used their findings to design product features that effectively enable technology to influence our behaviour.
Common persuasive design techniques include:
- gamification – features that keep you coming back by rewarding you for consistent use, e.g. the Duolingo streaks points system
- social validation – features that capitalise on our need for approval from others, e.g. like and comment counts on Instagram posts
- notifications – a feature that keeps us hooked by giving us a constant stream of updates and alerts
And that’s by no means an exhaustive list. Going up against this intentional hacking of our instinctive human behaviour is challenging, even for the most strong-willed among us. In many ways, it’s not your fault that you can’t put your digital devices down. It can be hard to maintain a healthy tech-life balance when we’re constantly bombarded with these attention-grabbing techniques. This is why prioritising your digital wellness must be a conscious and active practice.
How can you make digital wellness a part of your life?
The first step to creating a healthy tech-life balance is awareness. You should review your digital habits and assess how technology is currently impacting your life. Remember, there may be both positive and negative impacts. Not sure where to start? There are plenty of tools available to help you track your screen time, social media usage, and overall technology consumption. Apple and Android devices even come with tracking apps built-in (Screen Time and Digital Wellbeing, respectively). Once you have a better understanding of your relationship with technology, you can start making changes. The goal is to dial down your bad digital habits and consciously practise good ones.
As previously mentioned, there isn’t a magic one-size-fits-all set of rules when it comes to digital wellness. The specific changes you make and the habits that you commit to will be unique to your circumstances and goals. To help you get started, however, you might want to consider at least some of the following:
- being more selective about the devices, apps, and websites you use
- turning off notifications
- setting limits on your screen time
- scheduling regular breaks away from technology
- disconnecting from technology at least an hour before bedtime
- creating technology-free zones in your home
- spending time outdoors every day
- taking up a non-digital activity or hobby
- investing in a standing desk or ergonomic office setup
- connecting with friends and family face-to-face more often
- practicing meditation or mindfulness
- seeking professional support from a coach or therapist, especially if you’re struggling
Technology can be a great tool, but it’s important to use it consciously in a way that benefits your life and supports your wellbeing. While it can be challenging to maintain a healthy tech-life balance in an increasingly digital world, the benefits are clear: improved physical, mental, and emotional health, increased productivity and focus, and stronger relationships. By practising digital wellness, you can take control back from your digital devices and start creating a more balanced and fulfilling life for yourself.
So, what are you waiting for? Start your digital wellness journey today.