We are in a relationship with our technology. We take it with us everywhere we go, we work with it, we relax with it, we sleep with it and we wake up next to it. The truth is that, ultimately, we need technology. However, just like any relationship, our interactions with technology can carry some negative impacts on our well-being.
In this age overwhelmed by technology, our digital wellness is more important than ever.
What is digital wellness?
Digital wellness is defined by sociologists Marco Gui, Marco Fasoli and Roberto Carradore as “a state where subjective well-being is maintained in an environment characterized by digital communication overabundance.”
The ability to navigate this crazy environment of technology and emerge with “a sense of comfort, safety, satisfaction and fulfillment” is what ultimately determines our digital wellness.
We can achieve this through making mindful decisions regarding our relationship and interactions with technology. In this article, we look at a few ways we can fine tune our technology use to work toward this state of digital wellness.
1. Be aware of technology use and your emotions
Life has its fair share of stressors. How we perceive our life stress and how we manage the resulting emotions can have a significant effect on our mental health.
Unfortunately, it can be all too easy to take to technology and social media to cope with this stress in ways that are hurt our overall well-being. Difficulties managing our emotions have been linked by research to increased levels of smartphone use, internet gaming disorder and unhealthy social media use.
So, if you notice a big uptick in your time spend gaming or mindlessly surfing the web, it may be a good time to check in with your emotional needs.
However, it isn’t all bad news when discussing the link between technology and our emotions. It is possible to use our technology to our emotional advantage. Research has shown that social media can act as a buffer against the impact of geographical isolation and loneliness.
Remember: it’s our relationship with and how we use technology that matters! When we engage in supportive interactions using online technology, we are less likely to feel depressed. Additionally, the internet is often one of the first accessed resources when seeking emotional help and education. We can use technology to make a positive impact not only on ourselves, but the community around us as well!
2. Look at the opportunity loss
Our time is valuable, and where we spend our time affects our well-being. Technology use often means being sedentary and staying indoors. There is nothing wrong with enjoying your time inside, but we often forget the wellness benefits we could see just from spending time outside.
Spending time outdoors can:
- Increase physical activity
- Lower rates of depression
- Lead to faster recovery from stress.
- Create more opportunities for social connections
Even when we aren’t planning on going outside, technology can still take up more of our precious time than we intend. According to the Digital Wellness Institute, once you pick up your phone, you have a 50% chance of picking up your phone a second time within the next three minutes. It is all too easy to get caught in this technological loop and lose time that could be spent in healthier activities or spent more productively during the workday.
Bottom line: make a mindful decision about how you spend your time!
3. Be mindful of social media and social comparison
For better or worse, social media is heavily engrained into the landscape of many peoples’ digital well-being. When you’re on social media, your brain is doing a very important job—comparing yourself to what you see.
According to the Social Comparison Theory, this comparison plays a significant role in self image and subjective well-being. We can compare ourselves upward to someone we see as better than ourselves, downward to someone we see as inferior, or laterally to someone we see as an equal. When we approach these comparisons with a negative mindset, we see higher rates of depression.
If you feel like your online interactions are mostly negative, it may be time to take a break.
How we compare ourselves to others is what’s important—but it’s not all bad! Recent research has shown it is also possible to draw inspiration from upward comparison, giving us a boost to our self-concept. We also rate our own abilities as greater when we maintain a friendship with someone who we compare upwardly to. Our relationship with online technology has real impacts on our relationships in real life. Try to make your online interactions just as positive as the interactions in your day-to-day.
4. Stay safe with technology
There is inherent risk that comes with using technology. We open ourselves up to people stealing our accounts, a never-ending stream of online scams, false information and cyberbullying. Navigating this environment with so many threats to our digital wellness may seem overwhelming at times. To help with this, Julia Feerrar with the University of Virginia put together this list of reflections for evaluating your online health:
- Use different passwords for each account
- Use two-factor authentication to log in
- Adjust privacy settings for your accounts
- Backup your content
- Organize your files
- Update your operating systems, browsers, and apps
- Think carefully when sharing personal information
- Google yourself
- Maintain a portfolio or collection of your work
- Communicate respectfully
- Evaluate the credibility of sources before sharing them
- Make intentional choices about how you spend your time
- Unplug when you’re feeling overwhelmed
Using this list as a reference, you can target areas that you may be putting ourselves at risk when using technology, and make some intentional, mindful decisions to reduce the risk that comes with technology.
About the author
Cole Arnold, CHES, is a certified health education specialist and wellness advisor for Baylor Scott & White Health.