Take a close look at your life right now. What are the odds that you spend considerable time online? Thanks to our smartphones and round-the-clock Internet, our lives have changed. Work, fun, socializing, transacting, everything has already been online for a while now. The pandemic only took this a step further.
Owing to shelter-in-place orders during the initial months, we all work from home, and the boundaries between work and home no longer exist. We ‘Zoom’ed like never before – to a cousin’s wedding, an office meeting, or to chat up mom.
But as the pandemic has dragged on and the winter months coming, digital ennui is taking over. Zoom fatigue is now a thing.
Yet, many companies have announced that they will continue to work remotely in the post-pandemic world. We will see more blurring of lines as people continue to stay home. According to an article on Zoom fatigue in Psychology Today, “This can make us feel like ‘living headshots’ since all we can do now to project our identity is a thumbnail image of our faces.”
Coping with Digital Overwhelm
Austin, Texas-based Upasna Gautam explains her particularly hectic online life as a product manager at CNN:
“Many of us are currently carrying remarkable levels of fear and anxiety,” she says, allowing that “fear is a normal reaction to the uncertainty. Our brain is constantly stirring in thoughts around ‘Will I still have a job?’ ‘How can I possibly manage working from home while trying to home-school my kids?’ ‘Will I carry Covid-19 into my home?’ “You can, however, change your relationship to the circumstances by cultivating mindfulness.”
Gautam adds, “When you practice mindfulness, you are building the capacity to train your attention to what you want to focus on. Just 10-15 minutes of meditation per day is shown to have an effect on the brain that helps ‘downregulate’ the stress centers and ‘up-regulate’ the well-being centers in your brain.”
She offers a set of best practices and routines you can follow to overcome digital fatigue or overwhelm:
- Time-block your work calendar for “deep work” sessions minus distractions
- Avoid multitasking
- Disable social media push notifications
- Get outside for a walk, hike or run every day
- Practice stillness for 5 to 15 minutes daily
- Plan your week ahead by setting small goals and intentions on Sunday evenings and take time to reflect at the end of each week.
Exposure to Blue Light
A key aspect of digital fatigue has to do with the amount of blue light we are exposed to, thanks to our screens. Studies have shown that exposure to light suppresses melatonin secretion and throws your circadian rhythms off balance. Feel better and protect your eyes from blue light exposure by putting your smartphones or iPads away at least two-three hours before bedtime.
Limit those Video Calls
Video chats can drain our energy as we would need to pay more attention to non-verbal cues which are easier to do when we are meeting people face to pace. Also, video chats don’t allow us to take breaks or walk around. How about limiting video chats and opting in for email or messaging? Or even picking up the phone and talking where you only need to focus on the person’s voice and not stare at a screen?
Follow Set Schedules
Just because the boundary between home and work is absent doesn’t mean you wake up anytime or hit the bed anytime you want to. Stick to a routine, end your workday at a specific time each day and do not work beyond it. Also, have distinct work and family spaces at home to create separation.
Accepting that our lives have changed due to the pandemic and that the uncertainty is here to stay may help us all cope better with what has now come to be a cliche – “the new normal.”
Gautam notes that the focus should not be on avoiding pain or the “confusion of challenges. It should be on using best practices like meditation to deepen our capacity to meet challenges by sharpening our awareness and learning to be an objective observer of the world.”
She sums it up: “Happiness and zero-stress are not the goals, equanimity is.”