In a fast-paced, high-tech world, it’s not unusual for us to be surrounded by multiple screens. With a computer on the lap and a smartphone in hand while staring at a big screen TV across the room, we can become so accustomed to this sensory overload that we don’t even consider how it might be affecting our health. But this technology is in fact changing the way we live—and often for the worse.
This understanding of the effects of digital technology on human beings has brought us the concept of digital wellness and an acknowledgement that we need to improve our digital health.
The downsides of the digital age
Among the problems that many digital technology users face these days are:
Spending time on the phone before bed can have our minds too wired, making it hard to fall asleep. Notifications coming through on the phone during the night can disrupt our sleep (and then the tendency to grab the phone and look at it can make it harder to fall back asleep).
Diminished attention span:
Our technology constantly pulls our attention in multiple directions, making it difficult to focus. We know we should be concentrating on work or family time, but our gaze strays to the phone to check text notifications or to look at our Facebook page to see our friends’ latest posts.
The constant stimulation provided by the digital world, from the never-ending supply of streaming entertainment to immersive video games, can be especially damaging for young people who no longer need to learn to utilize their own imaginations to amuse themselves.
Increased suicide risk:
A group of researchers found that teenagers who spent five hours or more online each day were 71% more likely than those online for just one hour a day to have at least once suicide risk factor.
Lack of time for contemplation:
Addictive smartphone games, constant temptation to text, social media alerts, and other bells and whistles are always demanding our attention. There is little time to sit in solitude, relax our minds and reflect.
Failure to connect with people around you:
How many times have you been having dinner with a friend, only to keep losing them to their phone? (And how many times have you been guilty of doing the same)? Our digital obsession can definitely hurt our personal relationships and keep us from developing deeper real-life connections.
How can digital devices actually improve wellness?
The dangers of digital technology are clear. But if we are aware of the pitfalls, we can develop healthy habits. For example, setting ‘screen free’ periods of time for ourselves and our family. Or resolving to keep our laptops and televisions out of the bedroom to promote better sleep.
We can also make our devices work to our advantage. Here are a few ways to use your tech to promote wellness:
· Video chat to see and talk with friends and relatives from afar. Keep those relationships active and vital even when distance keeps you apart
- Participate on social media to remain in regular touch with relatives, former co-workers, or people you have just met, who you might otherwise lose contact with
- Take advantage of apps that are explicitly designed to encourage good health, such as Calm for meditation and relaxation. Noom can be for weight loss. Google’s new Digital Wellbeing app that is expressly designed to tackle the digital health issue
- Utilize health functions available through devices like smartwatches and smartphones. For example, step counting, heartrate monitoring, etc., to better manage your personal health
- Use a tablet or e-reader (or listen to audio books on your smartphone) to stay well-read and nourish your mind with stories and ideas
- Take an online course to educate yourself on a new subject, or use an app like Duolingo to learn a new language
How organizations can benefit by promoting digital health
Most of the problems that individuals face in the digital landscape also affect organizations. Many companies, having wised up to the fact that healthy employees are more effective employees (which means good ROI for the company), have already instituted programs to promote wellness, whether it’s offering free fitness classes or access to therapy.
It’s now vital that they start thinking about how to foster digital wellness among employees as well. As it happens, digital wellness can go hand-in-hand with traditional wellness, since both are typically focused on getting people to take time away from burdensome responsibilities and distractions to pay more attention to their physical and mental wellbeing.
Developing strategies for ensuring that employees get some time away from their screens is important. Famously, many big tech companies have comfortable lounges with ping pong tables and other activities to give employees time to relax. A smaller company could even encourage everyone to take lunch at the same time so they can eat and chat together.
Offering free gym memberships (or reimbursements), providing wearables with activity trackers, and encouraging employees to bike to work are other ways that a company can promote more time spent with fresh air and physical activity than sitting idly staring at a screen.
To ensure return on investment, organizations do have to balance the desire for digital wellness with cost. Corporate Wellness Magazine suggests that creating a digital wellness program that is affordable involves using science-based health assessments to help participants learn to take small steps that lead to lasting change.