Digital burnout is a mental and emotional state that can overwhelm and cripple even the most well-adjusted humans. Working in the technology space, I’ve often felt the effects of spending too much time online. Let’s just say that it might be a flaw in our human condition that makes us susceptible to digital burnout.

Societal changes have also fanned the flames of this hidden threat to human wellbeing. As workplaces become more open to remote working the lines have completely blurred between our real and online lives.

We are also to blame. When we do have time off, instead we “turn time alone into a problem that needs to be solved with technology,” says professor Sherry Turkle and author of Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age.

We “turn time alone into a problem that needs to be solved with technology”.

Sherry Turkle

What is digital burnout?

We can define digital burnout as fatigue and stress caused by the prolonged use of technology. Often this leaves people feeling overwhelmed and over-stimulated. The flood of information online leads to information overload. Another symptom of digital burnout is decision fatigue. This means being tired of making choices. When faced with a myriad of choices that are fighting for our attention we run out of mental space to make good decisions.

The attention economy

“Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.”

Simone Weil

Our attention is a limited resource. We live in a digital age where companies and advertisers fight for our attention. The pandemic has exacerbated this through remote working and has blurred the lines between working and personal hours. The outcome of this constant digital stimulation leaves us drained. Some experts have even recommended a digital detox. Digital burnout is not just a threat to everyone’s wellbeing, it’s also a hidden threat to businesses

The flaw in our nature

Our brains have been rewired to crave constant stimulation. We are addicted to our screens.

“Our new default reaction to any spare time is to delve back into cyberspace. Just watch people at an airport, or any place where they are required to wait for any length of time: they will no doubt, be locked into their mobile devices. No one simply stares into space anymore.”

Dion Chang

What are the signs of digital burnout?

  • Lack of energy and being tired all the time
  • Problems with concentration
  • Lack of motivation 
  • Depression. Psychologists have linked this type of depression to heavy internet and social media usage.
  • Lack of work-life balance. 
  • Worrying about work after hours saps our mental energy
  • Inability to sleep or have our brain switch off
  • Anxiety

Why are we here?

Humans have the innate desire to connect with other humans. Also, the internet is a great place to connect but it cannot give us things like another human being’s touch, talking face-to-face with someone or being outside in nature.

How to deal with digital burnout

  • Opt-out of information. Be selective about what you let into your brain. Unsubscribe from newsletters that you don’t read. Therefore unfollow pages, groups and people that don’t add value to your life so that your news feed is not cluttered.
  • Limit your time online by setting boundaries for yourself with your internet usage. Only check your email twice a day.
  • Don’t visit social media websites until after you’ve completed your to-do list for the day. 
  • Have time away from your computer and phone screen. Set aside 1 – 2 hours per day to do something that will enrich yourself offline.
  • Disconnect from all technology at least 1 day per week.
  • Get up and move. Our bodies aren’t meant to sit for long periods of time.
  • Give your eyes a break.
  • Use a productivity hack like the Pomodoro technique.
  • Do an audit of your social media profiles. Ask yourself – does that enhance my life or drain me?
  • Notifications – turn on “Do not disturb” mode. Disable any chat applications like Zoom and Microsoft Teams notifications when you are doing focussed work.
  • Digital declutter – remove unnecessary bookmarks, desktop icons, apps. Sort and delete old documents and emails.
  • Cut down on multitasking. Humans are poor multitaskers when it comes to focussed attention.
  • Create a tech-free zone in your house, for instance, the dining room table or your bedroom. Have tech-free hours during your family time. When eating out, everyone has to leave their cellphone in a pile in the middle of the table. The first one to touch their phone has to pay for the bill.
  • Switch off your phone at least 1 hour before bedtime and give yourself time to unwind. It is a well-known fact that the blue light from digital devices keeps us awake. If you have to work after hours, use a blue light filter app or setting on our device.

Final thoughts

The idea is not to go cold-turkey and turn your back on technology completely. I don’t believe in extreme approaches. Consciously manage the information that you expose yourself to so that it adds value to your life instead of draining your energy. Find meaning in everyday life, learn the art of slowing down and build relationships outside of your digital life so that you don’t feel the need to fill that void with something online.

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