It’s easy to assume that improving your digital well-being requires you to dramatically decrease your time spent online – a daunting prospect in a digital age. Though it’s true that spending less time in front of a screen is vital for our overall wellness, how, when, and why we use devices can be just as important as how much we use them.
The term digital well-being, or “digital wellness”, refers to the relationship we have with technology in our lives and the impact the online world can have on our health, mood, and sense of self. Rather than trying to distance yourself from all things digital, the key to digital wellness is to learn how to control technology in a way that benefits you.
A Balanced View of The Digital World
Since the start of the digital age, people have been concerned about the negative influence technology can have. There’s the fact that it encourages an unhealthy sedentary lifestyle. Then there’s how being constantly online can erode our ability to concentrate. It also provokes feelings of inadequacy and can make us lonelier. Social media and the rise of the algorithm are only exacerbating many of these negative impacts.
However, recognizing the positive impact of the digital world is a must. Our technology connects us, empowers us to learn new skills, facilitates communication, and enables us to work smarter (not harder). And as Covid demonstrated, it gives us the capacity to at least partially overcome significant physical barriers.
It may help to think about the digital world as a neutral tool with good and bad applications. That way, you can reduce the negatives and enjoy the positives without feeling guilty.
The Benefits of Digital Well-being
There are many benefits to improving your relationship with the online world. Of course, lots of these are related to spending less time in front of a screen, but there are also significant advantages to spending your digital time constructively and not destructively
Digital well-being will have positive implications on your mental and physical health. Being more mindful about your device usage is shown to have a beneficial effect on your sleep, mood, and stress levels. Being digitally healthy will also enable you to be more productive. By harnessing the tools made available by the internet and cutting out those activities that don’t serve you, you’ll free up time and energy.
Reducing your exposure to triggers, whether it’s the incitement to engage in pointless conversations, infinite scrolling, or unnecessary shopping, has obvious benefits for your mood, focus, and time management, too.
Better digital wellness is important for both personal and professional relationships. Knowing when it’s time to sign on and off will make a big difference to your collaborations with colleagues and your work-life balance.
Promoting Digital Well-being
Digital well-being isn’t something we have to take responsibility for alone. In fact, a key part of the concept is creating policies and implementing technology geared towards digital wellness.
If you’re in a leadership position, you can introduce policies and tools designed to nurture your team’s digital well-being. Not expecting people to check their work email during off hours, giving them a relaxing space away from screens for breaks, and investing in programs to speed up tasks are just some ideas.
If you’re a designer or product owner, you can foster digital well-being through the products you send out into the world. ‘Designing for Digital Well-being’ is a movement to create products centered on a user experience that prioritizes a consumer’s mental health and respects their time.
How To Boost Your Digital Well-being
For many people, reducing device usage is a crucial first step. Being mindful and strategic about it will make it a much easier transition. Rather than cutting out screentime indiscriminately, aim to identify those online tasks or sites that aren’t contributing to your well-being. You can then work on replacing them with more fulfilling activities.
Here are a few of our favorite actionable techniques for taking charge of your digital wellness.
1. Ask Yourself Why
Asking yourself why you’re doing something is a great way of identifying unhealthy or unproductive habits that you’ve fallen into.
When you pick up your phone to scroll through Instagram, identify the reason. Is it instinctive? Are you just reaching for your phone without a purpose? If it’s out of habit or just because you’re not doing anything else, then perhaps there’s a more productive (and less destructive) way to fill your time. But if it’s to connect with friends or to find inspiration, then scroll away.
2. Check-in With Yourself
A large part of digital wellness is being actively engaged with your feelings. Try to remember to take stock of what emotions are sparked by a particular digital activity.
Imposter syndrome is real, and one of the main causes is seeing everyone’s highly filtered highlight reel on social media.
Of course, some negative emotions can be natural and healthy. However, if browsing a particular site is making you frustrated or consistently leaves you feeling low, then it’s probably time to rethink it.
3. Designate Time for Your Device
Rather than regarding the internet as something you use to fill in the gaps, set aside designated time in your day to go online or use your devices.
While this definitely helps you set boundaries, it also makes digital time feel like something you deliberately do rather than something you passively reach for. That shift in your mindset will help you take ownership and naturally gravitate towards meaningful activities.
4. Think About Your Goals
Whether you’re interested in furthering your professional skills, learning a language, or getting fit, the internet has a wealth of resources to draw from.
More than any other invention, it has democratized our access to education and personal development. To focus on the positive side of digital use, you could learn a new professional skill with a (free) online course or sharpen your artistic skills with a YouTube tutorial.
The idea here is that digital consumption with a goal has the greater propensity to be a net positive experience.
5. Improve How You Work
There’s no getting around the fact that many jobs require you to spend hours looking at a screen. However, there are many tools you can use to get on top of those anxiety-inducing or time-consuming tasks that sap your motivation.
Whether it’s taking the guesswork out of feedback with ReviewStudio, speeding up team communication with Slack, or adopting some email shortcuts, there are plenty of ways to make the time you spend at your workstation far more productive.
6. Join Communities
Online communities can provide easy access to niche support, accountability, and motivation that you would struggle to find as quickly in person.
The distance provided by the internet can also help people overcome anxiety around asking for help and advice, as the stakes are lower when speaking to people who don’t know them personally. That can be a negative, of course (loose connections replace strong ones), but it can be a positive if you are balancing them.
To make the most of your internet interactions, it’s important to meaningfully engage with people rather than simply being an observer (as this can lead to damaging parasocial relationships, which can actually make you feel lonelier).
7. Use It to Form Healthy Habits
The irony is that some of the best tools for managing your digital well-being are digital. There are many apps out there, such as Digitox, PostBox, StayFree, and Prezense, designed for digital wellness. These apps will help you monitor the time you spend online, customize which notifications you get when, limit your screen time, or even just remind you to take a break.
The self-discipline required to establish healthy habits can often leave us feeling resentful or unhappy. Apps can take some of the responsibility for governing your behavior off your shoulders and lessen the burden of creating habits that contribute to your well-being.
Digital Wellbeing is Consuming with a Purpose
Boosting your digital well-being is not all about learning to give up your favorite subreddits or going cold turkey with your Instagram habit. Instead, you should aim to make your device use positive and purposeful.
By keeping in touch with your emotions as you scroll and asking yourself questions about your browsing habits, you can identify the ones that aren’t contributing to your well-being. You can also use digital tools, resources, and communities to actively pursue your goals.
Being mindful and intentional about how you exist online will empower you to use your time more productively and promote your well-being.