By Elle Balchin – Rehabilitation Consultant – Occupational Therapist
In the weeks since the COVID-19 crisis clobbered our social lives and sent us all into a permanent state of boredom snacking, technology has been an absolute lifesaver when it comes to staying connected with our friends, with our work, and with the outside world. But is it starting to mess with our biology?
After a couple of weeks of socially isolating and working from home, I started to notice myself feeling particularly drained and exhausted – it didn’t seem to matter how much down time I was giving myself or how many episodes of Tiger King I was getting through, I just couldn’t shake this feeling of complete and utter exhaustion. It wasn’t until after a FaceTime catch up with a friend that I realised that this experience wasn’t just my own, and it seemed to be linked to my digital face-to-face catch ups.
It’s scientifically proven that our brains release a hit of dopamine when we see a face we recognise. This is some of the basis for why, as a health care professional, I’ve learned all through my studies that seeing people face to face is much more effective than phone-based consulting alone. That’s why when we offer TeleHealth at Strive, we try to encourage the use of video conferencing – to maximise on that feel-good response we get from seeing people’s faces. This is why we feel so great when we see our friends and family!
However, as it turns out, constant video calling, virtual games nights, FaceTime rosés and working via TeleHealth is exhausting – not just for me, but for everyone.
Video chats are a great way to access the response that comes from seeing people face-to-face, however, it has added additional elements to our interactions that our brains aren’t used to having to process. Through video transmission, the delay in the sending and receiving of communication means the social part of our brains has to work much harder to process the information we are receiving, and has to pay more attention to be on the lookout for non-verbal cues such as facial expressions and tone.
We also miss out on a lot of the body language we would get with an in-person experience (such as hand gestures and spatial awareness), which we already know contributes up to 80% of the communication experience. The experts are calling this phenomenon “digital fatigue”, which is basically just a fancy way of saying our screen time is up, and it’s starting to make us lethargic.
Add that on top of the fact that we have been locked up in our houses for a period of weeks, only leaving for the grocery store or to engage in the newly popular outdoor exercise, with no clear end in sight. We are social beings wired for connection – thousands of years of evolution illustrating the fact we are genetically coded to function as a part of a community – but now, we are being cut off from that community on a large scale. No wonder we aren’t thriving!
Since Dr Google is never any help with these things, I’ve turned to my colleagues and we’ve put together a list of strategies to help manage digital fatigue:
If you need to use Zoom or other video conferencing tools for work, try not to book back to back meetings where possible.
- Leave yourself a 15-30 minute window between meetings to give yourself a digital break before jumping straight back into another call.
Take a movement and eye break straight after a video call (even if it’s a social one).
- Trying walking a few laps of the house, take a breather on the balcony or in the yard, pat the dog, have a stretch – anything that helps to you to refresh.
- I’ve been walking to my kitchen for a coffee or a snack, having a gentle stretch, and letting my eyes take a break from the screen by looking out the window or standing on my balcony for a few minutes of fresh air.
Try not to use your phone so much during your rest breaks!
- I know that Instagram is tempting and I’s a great way to kill time, but your phone is another tiny screen that is contributing to the digital fatigue.
- Try leaving your phone on your desk and taking a 5-10 minute digital detox for every hour you spend on video calls/ at the computer.
Go to bed earlier and keep a good bedtime routine.
- I know it sounds boring, but having a good night time routine that helps you to wind down before sleep is the best way to prepare your body for a good night of rest.
- Avoid technology about an hour before bed and leave your phone in a drawer so you’re not tempted to scroll for 3 hours before you fall to sleep.
- Try a guided mindfulness if you’re having trouble winding down – Smiling Mind has some great ones specifically targeted for better sleep!
Move your body every day.
- Now that we are stuck in our homes living much more sedentary lives, we need to make sure we are moving as much as possible to combat build up of symptoms related to inactivity.
- You don’t have to run 10km every day, but try to get in 30 minutes of good quality, enjoyable movement every day – practice yoga, play with the kids in the yard, go for a walk on the beach, do some cartwheels in the living room, whatever feels good.
I’ve been using these myself for about two weeks, and I am definitely noticing the difference already!
Try them out – let us know what you think!