DIGITAL WELLBEING - WHAT IS IT AND WHY DOES IT MATTER?

phone laptop digital wellbeing

Most of us live in a digital world for much of our day (especially at the moment) so the idea of digital wellbeing is more important than ever, so we take a look at what digital wellbeing is, why it matters, and how to stay well when interacting in the digital realm.

What Is It?

At its core digital wellbeing is about staying happy and healthy online (it’s also the name of a Google app designed to promote healthier online behaviours). 

Just as with mental and physical wellbeing, the exact definition will vary from person to person. For some it means being strict about time spent in the digital realm, for others it might mean only engaging with positive forms of digital content. The important thing is to be aware of how your digital interactions impact your emotions, thoughts, and behaviours and taking steps to address any imbalances or challenges that arise as a result of being online.

Why Does It Matter?

Our lives are almost 100% digital these days, especially in the current circumstances – we talk to our friends and family via technology, we work via technology, we keep up to date with the world via technology, we exercise via technology. It’s infiltrated every aspect of our lives, and while the convenience is great, it does come with risks – fake news, advertising, trolling, exposure to excessive negativity are just some examples, and sadly some of this content is extremely damaging to our mental wellbeing. It can also put our physical wellbeing at risk, as misinformation can cause us to make unhelpful decisions when it comes to our health, examples include following dangerous fad diets, or buying fake medication over the internet because our favourite influencers advertised it.

As adults we may think we have control over our digital interactions, but these apps are designed to be addictive and in truth we often have very little or no control over the content that we are exposed to. These issues have been very sadly highlighted by the recent news that a video of a person appearing to take their own life was shared on TikTok and could be viewed by anyone. As TikTok is marketed towards younger people, many parents have raised concerns about how to keep children safe on these apps, but it’s not just our kids who need protecting. Unfortunately, it is a constant battle to stay safe and well online because technology is evolving so rapidly that the measures to keep people safe simply cannot be implemented quickly enough.

Less extreme examples can also have negative effects if not properly managed. Many mental health professionals have spoken out about the rise in self-esteem issues, especially in younger people as we suffer from ‘comparison-itis’. Seeing the ‘wonderful’ life that others are living, can leave us with a feeling of not being good enough, even though we know logically that what we see on social media is only part of the story. The trouble is that our brains often fail to make that rationalisation in the moment, and even a quick glimpse of a seemingly charmed life of a good friend can cause us to spiral.

Add in instances of hateful trolling, and controversial fake news, and it is easy to see why so many people are struggling to manage their digital wellbeing. It’s become such a problem for some that they have elected to withdraw from social media entirely. However, as we highlighted earlier, technology also has many benefits in our lives. It does help us stay connected, it enables us to work more flexibly, it allows us to learn and develop our skills and knowledge, and it provides us access to helpful resources to help our mental and physical wellbeing. The key is finding the right balance for you.  

How to Manage Your Digital Wellbeing...

1) Be Selective

The prevalence of hateful and upsetting content on the internet is one of the biggest challenges to overcome, but while app makers are doing their best to control what you see, you do still have power over what you consume. Simple steps include only befriending people on social media that inspire you, or that you are close friends with. Ditch anyone who doesn’t make you feel good. Similarly, find positive sources of content and fill up your feed with these. This could be fun cat videos, positive new articles, charity updates – anything that makes you feel good. And if you find that nothing is making you feel good, choose not to consume anything online for a while and see how you feel.

2) Set Boundaries

If you find you are constantly being tagged in memes or receive messages late at night you are fully entitled to ask people to stop. Often people do these things without thinking and are not intending to cause any distress, so simply stating that you’d like them to stop could be enough to give you a break. 

3) Limit Your Access

Because we have constant access to social media, the news, emails, and all the other digital info available it can make us feel like we must look, read, or respond to whatever comes our way. But you don’t have to. Many of these apps are designed to be addictive, but there are ways around this, and sometimes technology itself can hold the answer; you can install apps that limit your access to certain sites. These are ideal if you find it challenging to disconnect on your own and can help control your consumption without having to think too much about it.

4) Share Your Concerns

Sometimes the best way to deal with issues is to ask for help. It may be that you just decide to tell a friend how you are feeling, or you may prefer to speak to a trained counsellor, but simply sharing your concerns can help enormously. You may not even understand why you feel anxious when you’re online, but speaking to someone can help you explore these feelings and hopefully find ways to manage your worries more effectively.

5) Practice Mindfulness

It’s all too easy to get caught up in the digital world, especially when we’re not paying full attention to what is going on inside and around us. Mindfulness can help break this pattern as it encourages you to focus on the here and now, whatever may be happening. And the best part is you can even be mindful while using technology; next time you’re online, really focus on what it is you are reading/watching/doing and pay attention to the thoughts going through your mind, and the physical sensations in your body. It may be a good indicator of how your technology use is making you feel, and that alone could prompt drastic change.

6) Find Ways To Achieve The Same Goal Offline

The purpose of technology is to make our lives more convenient, but it’s not intended to replace real-life interactions or activities. So if you are starting to find yourself overwhelmed in the digital world, why not take a break and see if you can achieve the same thing offline. Call or visit a friend instead of messaging them, read a newspaper rather than reading news online, take a walk instead of doing an online workout, volunteer at an animal charity rather than watching cat videos, write in a notebook instead of on a laptop. These things are slightly more challenging in the current circumstances, but they can still be done with safety measures in place. Sometimes the key to digital wellbeing is to get offline whenever and however you can and only visit the digital realm when you really need to.

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