In our current digital age, technology is expanding faster than ever. This grants us easy access to social connections, online shopping, and information from all over the globe. We can browse news about our city, state, and country, and even news about other countries, with just one tap.
But what many people don’t realize is that this extremely rapid flow of information and work can be overwhelming for our brains, which are not necessarily equipped to deal with such a fast-paced lifestyle. As we live our lives in this fast-expanding tech era, it’s important to get to know yourself and your limits, and how to keep yourself healthy in the midst of tech expansion and resulting mental health decline. Here are some tips for maintaining both emotional and physical health, especially as a tech user.
o Take Active Breaks
The screens of our devices emit something called “blue light,” which is different (and far more piercing and fatiguing) than natural light. Though we may not notice a dramatic difference while we’re looking at our phones, laptops, or televisions, blue light can make us feel very drained, stressed, and irritated over time. In past years, some devices have updated their settings to allow users to switch on “night mode,” which creates an red/orange-tinted filter that is supposedly more easy on the eyes, especially in the dark. However, the screen’s artificial light is ultimately still damaging in the long term, and using technology in excess—especially right before sleep—can mess with natural Circadian rhythms and emotional state. Studies have shown that even two hours of screen time can take a toll on mental health. It’s important to take scheduled breaks away from your screen, and ideally look (and go!) outside, particularly at vegetation; the natural green color relaxes our eye muscles and takes some strain off our brains.
o Strike a Balance
As regular tech users, we must find a way not only to take a physical break from our technology, but also mental and emotional breaks. The internet gives us access to all sorts of social media, which can be helpful for social life, school and work, job searching, and more, but looking at people’s social media pages and going online in general too often can be damaging. We can easily set unrealistic standards for ourselves and try to push ourselves past our limits. Furthermore, having easy access to the news can be hard to negotiate. Constant breaking news places a weight on the psyche that we must acknowledge. As a result, it’s crucial that we strike a balance between being informed and connected, and taking a step away from the media sometimes to be present with ourselves and our emotions in the here and now.
o Set Schedules
With so much of our lives and work being centered around technology now, it can be difficult to figure out when you should take a break from technology and when to keep focused on work. This is why setting schedules can be beneficial to your daily routine, especially since it can be easy to get wrapped up in work and forget to take a break. Figure out your sweet spot for working periods; it varies between individuals, but studies have shown that the ideal time is usually 25 minutes of work and 5 minutes of break time (see: Pomodoro technique), with a longer break every hour. Creating a schedule for when to check your phone and when to put it down, when to be present with your friends and family and when to step away from technology and other stressors—and sticking to that schedule!—will greatly improve your health and productivity.
In the midst of such a fast-paced, dynamic lifestyle, journaling is becoming an increasingly important—and undervalued—habit. The next time you’re stressed, take some time to write down the things that are stressing you out. Writing them out can help you reason through them, almost like a venting process. Many people have trouble falling asleep due to worry and stress. Journaling right before bed can help you shake the feeling that you have unfinished work, and you can go to sleep with a more relaxed mind. This can be especially helpful since staring at blue light all day—especially more often while at home during the pandemic—which can make our sleep patterns erratic and bring on bouts of insomnia. It’s also healthy and helpful to make a habit out of writing down the good and bad things of your day at the end of each day. More often than not, if you’ve had a bad day, this can help you realize that the bad things were not as big of a deal as you thought, and that your day was actually better than you thought!
o Connect with Healthy Relationships
Remember that we can also use technology to our advantage, since it’s so easy to connect with people nowadays, regardless of physical location. This requires self-awareness and making healthy choices about staying away from toxic social media, and instead devoting time to connecting with people we have healthy and unproblematic relationships with. The best way to connect is preferably over video call, which is the closest to the in-person interaction we can’t have as often, especially right now during the pandemic.
o Guided Meditation
One upside of technology is that tech itself offers some solutions for combating mental health decline. You can use tech to your benefit for mindfulness and guided meditations. Online, you can find many videos, websites, and even apps (such as Calm, Headspace, and Sattva) specifically dedicated to helping users relax and check in with themselves emotionally and mentally. Sitting alone in mindful silence can be a helpful meditative tactic if you know what you’re doing, but for people who aren’t regular meditators and/or don’t have a good idea of where to start, guided meditation is your friend. The calming music (or audio such as gentle rain, birds chirping, a flowing creek, etc.) in the background of many of these guided meditation videos is an added bonus!
o Laughter Yoga
Just like how we physically exercise our bodies, we can also “exercise” our laughter. Various studies and social experiments have shown that laughing, even forced laughing, actually makes us feel more mentally relaxed and open to positive experiences. In the long run, it can have a legitimately positive effect on our mental health. If you’re feeling stressed and down from work, which is oftentimes a result of excessive technology use and exposure to blue light and social media, either go off by yourself or find a group of willing friends to engage in some laughter yoga! Chances are, you won’t only be helping yourself; the sound and feeling of laughter is contagious, and it will also create a more positive space around you for everyone else.
Having tech accessibility ready at our fingertips is both a privilege and a detriment; as a collective, our mental health is on a decline. People are on social media a lot more nowadays because it’s one of the only ways we can stay in tune with others and the world, but we must recognize that we are walking a fine line between informational gain and personal health, so it’s incredibly important to be self-aware. Keep yourself safe and healthy, so that you can make the most of your time online!