How to deal with and prevent digital burnout

Anton P. | July 22, 2022

Digital burnout means users feel emotional and physical exhaustion due to unhealthy relationships with digital devices. It can take a toll when people spend too much time behind their screens. 

The COVID-19 pandemic hit most people deeply, with remote working, increased screen time, and isolation from the real world. However, digital burnout can hurt our physical and mental health at any time. Therefore, let’s review some healthy habits and specialist recommendations to prevent digital burnout.

What is digital burnout? 

Digital burnout might relate to people feeling overwhelmed, tired, moody, dissociated from reality, and anxious. However, its distinguishing factor is the cause. It is a specific type of exhaustion triggered by excessive use of digital services. 

Usually, we welcome constant connectivity, togetherness, and socialization. Sadly, digital burnout enters the picture when most of our life moves online. The need and wish to stay online gets linked to various symptoms like sleep problems and chest pains. Over time, digital overload can cause lasting mental or physical issues. 

What are the signs of digital burnout? 

Like usual burnout, digital burnout has a detrimental effect on various aspects of life: 

  • Repetitive headaches or muscle pain. 
  • Feeling overwhelmed. 
  • Dissociated from all activities, even the ones enjoyed before. 
  • Profound feelings of self-doubt and inferiority. 
  • Inability to concentrate. 
  • Procrastination. 
  • Inability to fall asleep or sleeping too much. 
  • Avoiding face-to-face interactions. 
  • Appetite changes.
  • Feeling restless and unable to relax. 

Nevertheless, digital burnout can manifest differently in each person. For instance, it can worsen existing physical or mental conditions. In other cases, it can lead to disregarding well-being and adopting unhealthy habits. 

Is digital burnout only possible in the workplace? 

The World Health Organization defines burnout as a syndrome occurring due to prolonged stress in the workplace. So, it refers to occupational contexts when employees lose interest and motivation in their jobs. 

Digital burnout causes similar symptoms but should not be limited to the workplace context. It can happen to anyone spending too much time online or using digital devices. However, remote work contributes to digital burnout, like overworking and dealing with many digital services simultaneously. 

The pandemic was particularly unkind, locking people at home with the internet being the only window to the world. Unfortunately, people continue struggling to maintain a healthy relationship with digital services. 

For instance, doomscrolling can be both a symptom and a cause of digital burnout. However, digital burnout happens even if people use digital services for positive means. The main issue might be the lack of physical connection paired with constant screen life. 

The stages of digital burnout 

Digital burnout might take some time to manifest fully. At first, the excessive use of social media or other platforms might seem harmless and comforting. However, symptoms sneak upon users unexpectedly when it is already challenging to control screen times. 

  1. The golden age. It refers to the increased time spent using various digital services. Social media is a common culprit, consuming a lot of time and likely triggering the fear of missing out. You might only see the positives of increased screen time at this stage. 
  2. Initial realization. By this time, digital burnout starts showing itself. For instance, you might notice that you spend too much time behind screens. Some minor symptoms like poor sleeping habits can become apparent. 
  3. More symptoms appear. At this stage, digital burnout starts slowly affecting most aspects of life. For example, you might have trouble concentrating, working, and feel anxious or less engaged with people. 
  4. Crisis mode. By this point, the negative influence of increased time becomes clear in most activities. Physical and mental symptoms, like chest pains and complete loss of motivation, start to manifest. It is also a stage for looking for ways to cope, healthy or not. 
  5. The final stage. You realize you cannot abandon digital services and the feeling of helplessness surfaces. Attempts to manage might fail, and you feel stuck. So, your quality of life worsens significantly. 

How to fight and prevent digital burnout? 

The quicker you catch on signs of digital burnout, the better. However, your routine might need some seemingly drastic changes to beat it. 

Here are some healthy habits and rules to prevent and deal with digital burnout.

Plan your time

You might immediately grab your smartphone and start scrolling when you have nothing to do. To prevent digital burnout, use your free time for meaningful or enjoyable activities beyond digital devices. Therefore, planning your time and following your new routine is beneficial. 

Fight the urge to cancel plans

Fatigue and lack of motivation can make you avoid bigger social gatherings or smaller get-togethers with friends. However, it is essential not to isolate yourself from people who care about you. So, schedule meet-ups and make it a rule not to cancel, even if you do not want to go. Sharing your struggles with friends can also make a big difference. 

Be wary of remote work

Flexibility is a perk commonly attached to work-from-home job offers. However, the danger is that you might end up working beyond your usual hours. So, try not to overwork, which could lead to digital burnout in your job. 

Discuss digital burnout at work

If your digital burnout relates to your work, try to find solutions with your managers. Establish boundaries, like not assigning tasks outside specified hours. In cases when the workload gets too heavy, discuss possible solutions. 

Leave social media 

Social media can have its moments, but it can make you stuck in a negative loop. Algorithms could make it difficult to escape the vicious cycle of negative news. Additionally, you might constantly compare your life with others. So, it could trigger feelings of inferiority and disappointment. First, you can try setting timers for social media apps. If that does not help, deactivate your account or remove it entirely. 

Try a change of scenery

Going away for the weekend can help you recharge your batteries. The key here is that you do not spend time online during this time. Instead, explore, meet new people, or walk around. Being in the moment is the biggest enemy of digital burnout. So, drop your worries and pack your bags, even if it is just for one day.  

Do things that make you happy

Remember the activities that can distract you from digital devices. Additionally, many hobbies are fairly easy to pick up. Here are some activities worth trying that can help with digital burnout: 

  • Read books. 
  • Try various DIY projects. 
  • Learn new recipes. 
  • Knitting.
  • Gardening. 
  • Journaling. 
  • Volunteering. 

Reduce screen time significantly

If you struggle to limit your time online on your own, some applications can help you. For instance, screen time trackers can be effective in settings boundaries. Digital Wellbeing on Android is a built-in tool you can use. It lets you set timers for specific applications. It is also possible to set Work Time, limiting your usage to particularly distracting apps.

Anton P.

Anton P.

Former chef and the head of Atlas VPN blog team. He's an experienced cybersecurity expert with a background of technical content writing.

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remote worksocial mediamental healthdigital overload

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