Digital stress and the risk of burnout

06. January 2020

Do you have the feeling that your life is increasingly determined by digital media? Do you feel stress from constantly looking at your smartphone? You are not alone! Our working and private lives have changed drastically due to digitalization and this does not remain without effects on our well-being and health.

Changed working conditions due to digital stress – risk of burnout

Hardly anyone can get by in their professional life without a laptop, PC, tablet and smartphone. The “normal madness” is exacerbated by digital stress, increasing the risk of burnout.

What creates digital stress?
The study Pr├ĄDiTec, funded by the Ministry of Education and Research, is entitled “Healthy digital work?! A study on digital stress in Germany” and has comprehensively researched the connection between digital working and health (FIT, 2019). According to the scientific findings, the following factors in particular lead to digital stress at work:

  • The omnipresence of digital media
  • The feeling of constant accessibility
  • Shorter response times
  • Dissolving boundaries between work and professional life
  • Stimulus overload
  • Feeling the need to work more and faster due to the increased amount of information provided
  • Performance monitoring through digital technologies
  • Violation of privacy

Alarmingly, one in three respondents is exposed to at least one of the stressors, and one in five perceives severe digital stress. The full study is freely available at https://gesund-digital-arbeiten.de/

Even at home, digital stress doesn’t stop
The digital industry goes to great lengths to focus our attention on its apps, using eye-catchers like blue checkmarks, red news ads, flashing lights and push-up notifications. So we are trained to constantly devote our valuable time to our smartphones. So even our free time becomes smartphone time.

Pressure from the smartphone
It’s crazy how the smartphone has managed to influence our lives so much. Circa 20 years ago, very few people had a cell phone; today, according to www.statista.de, 81% of Germans own an Internet-enabled cell phone. Digital communication can sometimes exert quite a bit of pressure: You probably also sometimes catch yourself expecting quick answers to questions and information from the people around you and therefore also put yourself under pressure to respond as quickly as possible.

The expectation pressure of answering immediately, as soon as the smartphone vibrates, becomes higher and higher and digital stress is created! The digital media are therefore not only time eaters, but also pressure makers.

Why we can’t ignore the smartphone
While we are sometimes annoyed with ourselves and others for being so distracted by the smartphone, we still fail to discipline ourselves. This is partly because constant digital communication has made us downright “addicted.” There’s a fear of missing something. Every ring, vibration or flash triggers a pleasant curiosity in us as to who might want to get in touch with us. So looking at the cell phone has a rewarding character that triggers feelings of happiness in us. This in itself reinforces smartphone consumption.

What does digital stress do to our psyche?

However, our brains are unable to cope with this constant flood of information, as they are very slow to adapt to changing living conditions. So the digital revolution has overtaken our processing ability. This creates stress, which is known to be harmful to our psyche.

High risk of burnout
If high digital stress collides with other risk factors for burnout, the risk of exhaustion increases. It can tip the scales, so to speak, leading to a breakdown.
The aforementioned PreDiTec study found that a high number of different digital technologies in particular intensifies stress. This is because the more new technologies are added, the less employees are able to find out about their application. As a result, uncertainty increases and with it the feeling of stress.

Remedy through “Digital Detox”

What can we do about rising digital stress? At work, we are often forced to use digital technologies. In our free time, however, we can determine the use ourselves. A good way to take a break from digital media is with the help of a “Digital Detox”.

What does “Digital Detox” mean?
Digital Detox means going on a withdrawal cure from digital media and digital communication for a certain period of time. The period of time and the extent of the renunciation are freely selectable. One conceivable approach is to make urgent phone calls or send important messages, but to leave apps like Whatsapp, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat alone – in other words, everything that is not part of direct and necessary communication.

Why should I do “digital detox?”
Are you aware of the harmful effects of constant accessibility and communication pressure, but don’t yet know exactly how to escape digital overstimulation?

Perhaps it helps to think of Digital Detox as a kind of experiment. An experiment on how it might affect our perception and sensation if we consciously make the decision to do without cell phones, tablets and Pcs and the constant distractions associated with them for a while. We might perceive that we are paying much more attention to our environment and the present moment, leading us to be more present. Read more about the benefits of presence and mindfulness here.

Tips & Tricks for Smartphone Detox

Here are a number of tips and hints that can make a digital detox easier:

  • First, develop a sense of when you reach for your smartphone in a completely automated way, even though there is no pressing need to do so. In this way, you create an awareness of your smartphone consumption.
  • When you then feel the automatism and are about to reach for the cell phone, take a conscious deep breath in and out. Thus, you create a break in the pattern and expand their scope of action. Instead of looking at your smartphone, why not look at your surroundings? Be aware of your breathing? Loosen the back? Put some cream on your hands?
  • Replace functions of the smartphone with other everyday objects: alarm clock, wristwatch, calculator, flashlight, city map, radio, cookbook, dictionary, stopwatch… All this is also available in analog!
  • Set push messages that appear directly on the display and attract our attention off. Turning off sound and vibration can also help us avoid looking at the smartphone all the time.
  • There are apps that make us aware of our smartphone consumption and record it in the background (e.g. QualityTime, Space, Forest…). The results can be quite scary… What do you guess: How many times do you unlock your phone a day?
  • Create places where the Smarthone is taboo. E.g. the dining table, the bed, the couch, etc.
  • Make your free time smartphone-free time. Consider what activities you like to do, for example, reading (book, newspaper, magazine), crafts, cooking, baking, dreaming etc.
  • When concentrated work is necessary, put the smartphone out of reach of your desk. This increases the inhibition threshold of distraction by the device.
  • Use the flight mode from time to time – or directly the off button.
  • Discuss your new Digital Detox strategy with friends, family and colleagues. This way you can explain why you don’t reply directly to messages and take the pressure out.

Whether you read this article on your phone or laptop: Now put your smartphone out of your hand for a moment or close the laptop. How is actually the weather outside? How does your body feel? Do you need to stretch urgently or go for a walk around the block…?

References

(1) Meditation, Coaching and Life – Digital Detox, Podcast by Michael Kurth (Curse) – uploaded on 09.08.2017. available at spotify.com

(2) Gimpl, Lanzel, Regal, Urbach, … & Derra (2019). Healthy digital work?! A study on digital stress in Germany. Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Information Technology FIT.

Categories: Burnout

Friederike Reuver
Author Friederike Reuver
"The LIMES Schlosskliniken specialise in the treatment of mental and psychosomatic illnesses. Through the blog, we as a clinic group would like to shed more light on the various mental illnesses and present different therapies as well as current topics."

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