Do you suffer from digital overload?

We’re rarely apart from our digital devices these days — it’s hard to unplug when our computers and smartphones play a starring role at work, school, and home. But being online constantly can prevent you from living your life fully. Too much screen time can leave you feeling physically and mentally drained, and can even cause medical issues such as vision problems, decreased bone density, weight gain, and high blood pressure.

Fortunately, you can bounce back from digital overload by setting some healthy boundaries and making a few tweaks to your daily routine. If you think you or a family member is dealing with digital burnout, read on for some tips to help you identify and overcome it.

Spot the signs

Digital overload happens when you have trouble processing the information you’re taking in online. You might be spending too much time on your devices, or trying to absorb too much information, or both. Common symptoms include:

  • Exhaustion and low energy
  • Headaches
  • Eye strain or dryness, blurred vision
  • Stress and irritability
  • Feeling anxious or depressed
  • Lower productivity
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Trouble relaxing or sleeping

If you’re always online, chances are you’re missing out on good things happening offline — quality time with your family and friends, being active, spending time outside — that are important to your overall well-being.

Overcoming digital overload

Here are some tips that will allow you to enjoy your digital devices while helping to protect you from information overload.

  • Set clear boundaries. It can be hard to switch off, but your brain needs a break. Establish specific boundaries — for example, no phones at the dinner table and no checking email or social media after 7 pm — and set expectations with others so they know when you’ll be unavailable.
  • Take breaks and set time limits. During the workday, try to take a 10-minute break every hour away from your computer and phone screens. When you’re online for fun, set an alarm that reminds you to put your device down after 30 minutes.
  • Turn off unnecessary alerts. On any given day you may be flooded with Slack or Teams messages, emails, texts, Zoom requests, and social media notifications. Figure out what’s most likely to distract you from getting important things done, and silence those alerts when you need to focus.
  • Prioritize off-screen activities throughout the day. When you stare at the screen too much, you risk overworking your eyes — so give them a rest! Go for a walk, eat lunch outside, meditate, relax with your family, or try out a new recipe.
  • Consider the urgency level. Does the message warrant an immediate response or can it wait? You might be putting too much pressure on yourself. For example, research shows we tend to overestimate how fast our colleagues expect us to respond to non-urgent messages outside of work hours.
  • Plan your social media and news activities. Checking your favorite social media and news sites throughout the day is tempting, but can quickly lead you down a rabbit hole and derail your productivity. Instead, schedule times for these checks in your calendar.
  • Don’t use your devices right before bed. Sometimes this is unavoidable, but do your best to allow a buffer between screen time and sleep time or it may be harder to fall asleep. Try setting your phone to “Do not disturb” an hour or two before bed so you won’t be interrupted.
Did you know?

The average US adult spends over 11 hours a day using their phones, computers, tablets, televisions, and gaming devices. Studies show that people who use their devices and check social media more often are more stressed and more likely to report symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Sources:

“Ignoring a Text Message or Email Isn’t Always Rude. Sometimes It’s Necessary.” The New York Times (nytimes.com), February 21, 2022
“Digital Overload: What Is It, and How Is It Affecting Our Mental and Physical Health?”, GoodRx Health (goodrx.com), April 17, 2020
“15 Small Habits To Help You Overcome Digital Overload,” Forbes (forbes.com), June 8, 2017