The Internet’s reach is so pervasive, it feels as though it has always been around. The reality is that the web is still in its infancy, and we don’t really understand the risks it poses to our mental health. In fact, various experts, such as Larry D. Rosen, a psychologist and author of “iDisorder,” believe that personal gadgets are making us mentally ill and are exacerbating other problems such as narcissism, depression or obsessive-compulsive disorder. Other mental health professionals have already identified disorders ranging from “Facebook depression“ to “phantom vibration syndrome.”
Realistically, most of us don’t have the luxury of disconnecting from the Internet, particularly communication professionals whose work depends more and more on it. However, there are various things you can do to curtail the negative effects it may have and prevent digital burnout.
1. Disconnect Once a Week
Pick a day of the week where you can focus your attention 100 percent on “real life.” Shut off your computers, tablets and, if you are courageous enough, your phone. This day should be about giving your brain time to slow down and rest — constant stimulation is not only addictive, but exhausting. On this day, focus on being present on the now, and engage in physical activity. You could go on a hike or walk in the park, or enroll in an art class. The point is, do something with your body that doesn’t involve electronic devices. (For more on taking a “Technology Sabbath,” read this related report on MediaShift.)
2. Schedule Your Social Media Consumption
Social media is like a black hole and time warp. Once you’re connected, it’s very hard to get out, and you may find yourself wondering where the past three hours went. Limit the time you spend on social media by only accessing it at a predetermined time every day. For example, maybe you check it 30 minutes in the morning at 9:00 a.m., and 30 minutes in the afternoon at 4:00 p.m. If you find yourself too tempted to break your schedule, there are many tools to help you limit your social media consumption, such as a Firefox extension that blocks Facebook for 45 minutes each hour.
3. Pick Your Social Poisons
Some people think that if they’re not on every social network that ever existed, they’re going to miss out on “something.” Not only is this far from the truth, you may be spreading yourself out thin and missing out on the best opportunities social media has to offer. Most importantly, you may be heading for a digital overload. Pick which networks are the most important for your business and personal goals, and stick to them. If you’re going to add a network, then ensure you remove one, or reduce the time you spend in an already existing network.
4. Establish Tech Etiquette and Guidelines
This might be one of the most important things you can do for you and your family. Guidelines allow you to create boundaries between your real life and your online life. Last year, frustrated with my addiction with technology, my husband made a rule: Under no circumstances were electronic devices permitted in the bedroom. Not only has this rule enabled us to make our sleeping quarters more peaceful, but it has improved our ability to unwind and rest. Another guideline that has proved useful is preventing the usage of smartphones during dinner, whether at home or out with friends. Whatever guidelines you choose, make sure you enforce them and that you don’t cheat.
5. Stop Multitasking
By now if you still believe that multitasking is possible, then you may not be as efficient and effective as you could be. Various studies have shown that not only is multitasking a myth, but it can slow you down. When trying to complete a task, shut off all forms of entertainment, close your email, and put your phone on vibrate. You may find this difficult to do at first, but it’s just a matter of retraining your brain to stay focused on something over a long period of time.
Internet addiction poster photo by Michael Mandiberg on Flickr and used with Creative Commons license.
Sandra Ordonez is a Web Astronaut who has been navigating the web since 1997. She provides digital strategy and community management consultation to a variety of clients. Currently, she serves as senior digital strategist to TopMBAConnect.com, and DigitalUNYC. She also serves as external communication lead to Joomla and heads up the NYC chapter of Girls in Tech. She is also the creator of Virgins of NY. You can reach her via Twitter @collaboracion.Related