Too much screen time? You may be facing digital burnout


Working professionals have reported mental and physical exhaustion, according to a NIMHANS study

The pandemic has changed the way many people work and most professionals spend the better part of the day switching from one chat window to another during online meetings and attending webinars. Spending such a large chunk of the day in front of the screen may have an adverse effect. Mental health experts point out that working professionals who are adapting to the “new normal” during the pandemic may be facing a digital burnout.

Researchers from the Service for Healthy use of Technology (SHUT) clinic at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS) have published a paper on this in the ‘World Social Psychiatry’, the peer-reviewed journal of the World Association of Social Psychiatry.

In the paper titled ‘Digital Burnout: COVID-19 Lockdown Mediates Excessive Technology Use Stress’, researchers say that during the COVID-19 pandemic, the time spent digitally had increased enormously for both work- and leisure-related activities. Researchers interviewed around 70 working professionals in the age group of 25 to 45 from across different sectors, including software and marketing professionals as well as those in the administrative roles in the government sector.

Respondents said that the time spent on online streaming platforms, gaming, and social media too had increased multifold.

Manoj Kumar Sharma, who heads the SHUT clinic, said the excessive screen time had led to digital burnout. Respondents felt physically or psychologically exhausted and were not satisfied with their productivity. “Lack of physical interaction with their colleagues along with digital burnout had severely affected the motivation levels of employees,” he said.

‘Not a medical condition’

He, however, cautioned that digital burnout cannot be classified as a medical condition, but needs to be viewed as an occupational phenomenon.

Those interviewed also pointed out that online meetings required them to be more attentive than face-to-face meetings. Many of them complained that if their colleagues logged in even a few minutes late, it irked them. They also said that the phenomenon of being “permanently online” contributed to their stress.

Digital hygiene

The paper has noted that working professionals are finding it hard to maintain a balance between time spent on online and offline activities.

“Digital hygiene — in the form of taking frequent breaks from screen use, structured hours for online office work, demarcated time for online leisure activities, engagement in indoor physical activities, secure time spent for offline communication with family members, stopping use of digital devices and online activities one hour before sleep time, and avoiding caffeine use to delay sleep time — can help one from experiencing digital burnout,” wrote the researchers in the paper.

Dr. Sharma also said that implementing digital hygiene activities would help in minimising the risk of developing digital burnout.

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