It begins with tired eyes, headaches, sore neck, shoulders, and back. Gradually, you develop increased sensitivity to light and might have difficulty concentrating. Eventually, you find yourself feeling hopeless and displaying some shocking irrational behaviors. That is the world of digital fatigue, in which about 47% of workers are currently enmeshed due to the inability to manage the work-life intersections across corporate organizations, public service, politics, religion, family, and in the business world (Twilio, 2022: https://www.twilio.com/state-of-customer-engagement/trend-5). Digital fatigue, which since 2020 has more commonly been referred to as zoom fatigue or technology fatigue, is a form of mental exhaustion which occurs after an intense amount of screen time.
The vulnerability to digital fatigue-induced mental health crises was worsened by the widespread adoption of remote work or flexible work regime options, as occasioned by COVID-19 disruptions. According to WHO (2020: https://www.who.int/health-topics/digital-health#tab=tab_1), digital technology is now integral to daily life, and the world’s population has never been more interconnected. This interconnectedness affords employees the opportunity to work from preferred or agreed locations outside of physical formal organizations. While such flexibility has been widely acclaimed to have achieved its aim, it has consequently generated adverse effects, particularly on mental health, on which digital fatigue has taken enormous toll globally. Growth In Motion (n.d) describes digital fatigue as a recognized state of mental exhaustion arising from excessive and prolonged use of digital devices such as smartphones, tablets, or even laptops. Digital fatigue manifests in lack of energy, poor mental clarity, and other psychological effects that could climax in digital burnout – the feeling of exhaustion, apathy, and anxiety, often caused by spending too much time on digital devices. Unaddressed burnout, on the other hand, has several consequences including irritability, depression, anger, and insomnia.
It is difficult to overrule remote jobs since it has come to be a part of human life. Hence, the big question is how can we prioritize our mental health, even while working from home?
Here are six ways digital fatigue can be managed to have a healthy mental life:
- Eating healthy.
Eating a balanced diet is important to retaining energy during the day, and to avoid fatigue. Hence, start your day with a wholesome breakfast. Eat food that is high in nutrients, fiber and antioxidants. Also, stay hydrated and practice mindful eating. Practicing mindful eating involves focusing all your attention on your food and enjoying the experience of the food. Doing all these would help you stay energized and remain productive throughout the day.
- Taking regular screen breaks
When using digital devices, the eyes are fixed in a particular screen position for a period of time. The brightness and glare from the electronic screen can lead to dry and tired eyes, and subsequently, fatigue and headache. Taking screen breaks is an important practice that provides physical and mental benefits, while also giving the chance to get up, move around, stretch and readjust your posture. Taking screen breaks involves taking a break from all types of digital screen: phone, tablets, or computer, over a period of time. In a clinical study, Anshel (2007) suggested the 20-20-20 rule which states that every 20 minutes, you need to look at something approximately 20 feet away for about 20 seconds. This can lessen eye strain and help you refocus.
Another beneficial screen break while working is to get up from your seat for at least 5-10 minutes every hour. You can stretch your arms and legs, grab some healthy snack or do some meditation to help relieve stress.
- Physical exercise
Exercising is vital for optimal mental and physical health. So, when next you take a break, do not spend it on Netflix or video games. Instead, you can go for short walks and do simple stretches to relax the muscles around your neck, shoulders, back and eyes.
- Adequate sleep
Sleep deprivation is a key factor in digital fatigue, since an excess of screen time can suppress the ‘sleep’ hormone melatonin, disrupting your sleep patterns. These can lead to incessant tiredness, contributing to digital fatigue. Therefore, it is important to prioritize sleep. Practice a good wind-down routine every night – and one that doesn’t involve screens – for at least an hour before bedtime. Get a good 7 to 8 hours sleep. Also, closing your eyes and taking a nap is an excellent way to take a break from your digital devices. A good 30-minutes nap can restore your sense of alertness and your memory.
- Using non-video channels of communication where possible
Not every remote engagement has to involve a video call. When possible, you can have your meeting via phone call, and that would give you the opportunity to stand up, pace or take a short walk. In addition, a good old-fashioned pen and paper will build micro screen breaks into our daily routine.
In summary, digital fatigue might have grown to become the malady in the world of remote work. However, eating healthy, taking regular screen breaks, exercising, sleeping and using other channels of communication can help you manage it.
Remember, your mental health is our priority!