Feeling overwhelmed? Here are 7 things you can do right now to restore your digital — and mental — health

Erica Gerald Mason
·7-min read

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Consider limiting your child's screen time with parental controls. (Photo: Getty)
Consider limiting your child's screen time with parental controls. (Photo: Getty)

Emails, social media, business documents, reports for school, streaming services, productivity apps, the list of tech we use in our daily life goes on and on. But at what cost? While phones and computers might simplify our lives, experts say too much time spent on the devices can activate our stress hormones and cause anxiety. Now more than ever, it’s important for us to balance our digital lives with our real lives.

Here are 7 ways to find some digital balance and make sure our computers work with us, not against us.

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Tip #1: Embrace parental controls

The pandemic brought with it chaos for the entire family. It's time to start setting new boundaries with your kids, making sure they aren't overdosing on unhealthy amounts of screen time, or visiting websites that are too mature for their young eyes. Consider using parental controls and locks to reduce your kids' screen time and to set a healthy limit and protect them from apps, websites and online video games that might be too much for your child to handle.

Digital products are meant to enhance your life, not take over
Digital products are meant to enhance your life, not take over (photo: Getty)

Tip #2 Practice self-care

Practice digital self-care to help manage your relationship to tech
Practice digital self-care to help manage your relationship to tech (photo: Getty)

Just 15-minutes of social media, then you’ll tackle that project, right? Nope. Make that 30-minutes. You’re already in for 45-minutes, why not make it an even hour?

Except it’s a trap.

“Self-care can be about tuning out and turning technology off if that’s what you need,” says clinical psychologist Jeffrey M. Cohen, Psy.D. of the Columbia University Irving Medical Center. “Self-care is shutting off your computer at the end of the day even if you have more work to do. Stop watching TV, put the phone down, and get off social media.”

Tip #3: Get (meta)physical

Physical and mental health are linked; step away from the computer and pick up some healthy habits, like meditating. Studies show who meditate are less likely to feel anxious or depressed.

“Meditate to a self-soothing guided meditation or listen to an uplifting podcast,” wellness advocate Candy Washington tells Yahoo Life. “The main thing to do is focus on the things you can control while protecting your energy and space.”

Tip #4: Think about SAD

Your relationship to tech may be affected by the time of year
Your relationship to tech may be affected by the time of year (photo: Getty)

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a specific classification of depression, as defined by the American Psychiatric Association. More than the “winter blues,” people who live with the disorder report energy loss, sleeping too much, or feeling worthless.

Folks who experience these symptoms often turn to technology to find a sense of calm - which can be short-sighted; increased tech use can actually make people cranky and irritable.

If you think you might be experiencing SAD, Cognitive Behavior Therapy might help, says Cohen. Another option is light therapy.

“Light therapy involves sitting in front of a light therapy box which emits bright light (and filters out harmful UV rays),” Cohen explains. For people working from home, Cohen recommends switching up your home office.

“Try positioning your work area in a place that gets lots of natural light,” Cohen says. “People can try opening all the blinds or shades in their home to increase the amount of light.”

Tip #5: Turn off notifications

Switch off notifications and be more present
Switch off notifications and be more present (photo: Getty)

Unless you’re a brain surgeon or an air traffic controller, you probably don’t need your notifications on your phone or browser. Studies have shown that these types of interruptions cause stress.

“Stress affects every part of our being: mind, body, and spirit. It tends to make our thinking less flexible,” Seth J. Gillihan, head of therapy for Bloom, a mental health app, tells Yahoo Life. “The brain triggers the sympathetic nervous system to release adrenaline, so we get that rush of energy and activation. It also causes the release of cortisol, which further marshals our resources to deal with a threat.”

Turn any non-essential alerts on your phone and computer; or if that’s not possible, only check the notifications during office hours.

Tip #6: Become a processor

News on digital, broadcast, and streaming services can be grim and stressful.

Consuming media stories we find disturbing or upsetting can impact our mental health. While it’s important to stay in the know about current events, it’s equally important to discern the difference between opinion and news.

“People generally blame others' problems on something personal about them, and see their own problems as caused by the situation,” Gillihan explains.

Reframing these thoughts can help our digital experience become more enjoyable and more compassionate. “It can be helpful to remember some version of ‘there but for the grace of God go I’,” says Gillhan.

Tip #7: Prioritize people

Make it a priority to create face-to-face connections (photo: Getty)
Make it a priority to create face-to-face connections (photo: Getty)

Dude. Stop binge-watching that true-crime series and talk to a real-life person. It's time to get face-to-face. When it comes to social media, rethink groups or interactions that could actually be toxic for you.

“Some digital spaces can be really toxic, impacting a person's mood and overall well-being,” says Dove Pressnall, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist.

Evaluate how you engage with tech - and be prepared to be honest with your answers. Ask yourself “is this connection or group good for me?” Pressnall says.

Then turn the same question to your relationships. Ask yourself “how [are my digital habits] impacting the rest of my life and relationships?” says Pressnall.

Then, make a plan. “Set boundaries with your online friends and associates that mirror the values you hold with people in real life,” she says.

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