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Digital Burnout? (What is it and how to cure it)

John Winstanley
John Winstanley
Internet Safety Advocate, Husband, Father, Runner, NOT perfect...and that is o.k.
Digital Burnout How to Cure it
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Burnout Detail

Suffering from Digital Burnout?

(cause and how to cure it)

Part One of Two

January 28, 2021

Atlanta, Georgia

Digital burnout – The symptoms

  • Is Wikipedia using your head shot to help define “Zoom Fatigue” ?
  • Trying to focus on a work zoom call, answering texts, teaching math to your daughter on her chrome book, and making sure your son is paying attention to his virtual history lesson all at the same time?
  • Do you have feelings of anxiety, defeat, detachment, apathy or never-ending exhaustion caused by spending A LOT of time staring at a screen?
  • Are you having trouble getting motivated for any activity that has the words “virtual” or “digital” in the title?

If you answered yes to some or all of the above questions (like I did) then you could be suffering from the effects of technology overload…or what we at @Fortsafety are calling:

Digital Burnout !

Digital Burnout – The Statistics

The pandemic has forced most of us to spend more time online staring at screens that we would like to.

If you are feeling this digital burnout, you are definitely not alone.

 A survey by Mother.ly magazine reports that 74% of working mothers report feeling mentally worse since the pandemic began.  

Another survey by the Limeade Institute showed that employees at all levels (managerial and non-managerial) were reporting a 171% increase (almost double!) in burnout rates compared to pre-pandemic levels.  

171% increase burnout rates compared to pre-pandemic levels

Limeade Institute

Digital Burnout: The Cause

 

We can all agree that working and parenting are challenging activities just by themselves…but if you add to those callings the need to fight a pandemic, be confined to the same living areas day after day, while juggling work, childcare, house chores, remote learning, AND staring at a screen for a reported 7 hours day..

It is no wonder we are all suffering from digital burnout!

The Emotional Tunnel

In their book Burnout (The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle), sisters Emily Nagoski, Phd, and Amelia Nagoski, DMA unpack how burnout and emotional fatigue occurs, especially in individuals who care for others humans like parents and healthcare workers.

The authors explain that emotions are like a tunnel: there is a beginning, and middle, and an end. There is a process that we need to go through to experience emotions.  We begin to feel something, feel something, and then the emotion ends…just like a tunnel.

Stuck Inside the Tunnel

Burnout occurs when we get stuck inside this “emotional tunnel”, because we are dealing with the same emotions or anxieties every day, with no end in sight (sound familiar?!) When we experience the same emotional cycle day after day…with no apparent “light at the end of the tunnel”…we burnout.

Our minds were not created for a world of instant technology and multi-tasking. The brain is like one of those hour glasses that our grandmothers used to time things in the kitchen. Our thoughts are represented by the sand flowing from the top to the bottom through the narrow constriction in the glass. Only one grain of sand can pass through the constriction at a time, just like it is only possible to have one thought at a time.

If we try and force more sand through the constriction, the glass will break. Digital burnout happens because we are trying to force our brain to multi-task…something it cannot do without increasing your stress levels to unhealthy levels. 

When we experience the same emotional cycle day after day…with no apparent “light at the end of the tunnel”…we burnout.

Digital Burnout: solution

So, in order to explain to you the solution to digital burnout, let’s stay with the “emotional tunnel” analogy:

The way to kick burnout to the curb is to find a way to break out of the emotional tunnel. In other words, we need to incorporate certain habits and activities into our daily lives that stop the emotional cycle we are in and let us see the light again.

Mental Espresso

Much like a splash of cold water on your face or a shot of espresso coffee in the morning: the following 10 habits will help you snap you out of your daily routine causing your digital burnout and refocus your thoughts.

Please Note: If you or someone you know is feeling desperate, depressed, can’t get out of bed, crying all the time, or having suicidal thoughts please get help by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.

10 Digital Burnout Solutions !

1.   Talk it out!

Yes, it can be that simple! Study after study have shown that simply talking about our problems with a trusted friend can be profoundly healing.

Why is that?

When we are burnt out, we get trapped inside our own head by thoughts and negative emotions…and it is exhausting! Sitting down with another human being and talking out loud is a great way to diffuse those negative emotions.

Also, talking about what is going on in our lives forces us to analyze and “put flesh” on what is going on in our lives and gives us a wonderful perspective. We are not meant to carry our mental burden alone…it easier to carry with others.  Added bonus: a good friend can make you smile and laugh, which is another “Burnout Buster” tip…keep reading.

2.   Laugh or smile it out!

A good laugh increases your oxygen level, stimulates your heart, lungs, and muscles, and releases those feel good hormones called endorphins. Smiling or laughing really does relieve our stress response and can break us out of that emotional tunnel we talked about above.

So take a break and watch your favorite comedian, funny movie, or sitcom.  If you can’t think of anything to watch I have just the YouTube clips for you: these two British TV morning show hosts, Phillip Schofield and Holly Willoughby, frequently get the giggles live on air and watching them is sure to put a smile on anybody’s face.

Here are a couple of clips:

One last thing about smiling:

Smile…even if you don’t feel like it…and it will change your mood for the better.

 

I read about this fact in a book by legendary author, Dale Carnegie called How to Win Friends and Influence People. In that book, he interviews experts that say when it comes to smiling, the action and the feeling go together.

If you force yourself to smile and sing a tune or do a dance… you will feel better. The added bonus is if you smile…those around will smile too because happiness is a perfume you can’t help but spill onto others…it is contagious!

The added bonus is that those around you will smile too because happiness is a perfume you can’t help but spill onto others…it is contagious!

Sweat it out!

Just like laughter, short bursts of exercise will boost your mood by increasing your oxygen level, releasing endorphins, and invigorating your organs. Due to pandemic lock downs, you might have to get creative with your exercise activities, but here are a couple of examples:

  • jumping jacks,
  • pushups, stairs,
  • squats,
  • lunges
  • treadmill/bike
  • yoga
  • dance
  • walking
  • stair climbing
  • (fill in the blank with your favorite exercise)

With exercise there isn’t a “one solution fits all”…it really depends on what works for your body, your living situation, your schedule, and your passions. The key is whatever you chose…as NIKE says…JUST DO IT!

Don’t let excuses get in the way. I would recommend setting personal goals and getting accountability for those goals via a work out partner or app.

For example, I’m a runner. This year I am challenging myself to run 3 to 4 miles per day, on average. This doesn’t mean I have to run every day…just that over 7 days I want to average 3 to 4 miles per day.

Added bonus: Exercise is another great way to get out of our head and forget your stress for a while!

Control it out!

Read this statement very slowly:

Our feelings are very real, and the emotions they create are very real as well…but they can lie to us and make it hard for us to see a way out our problems. Feelings do not define us. We do have control of our feelings and the resulting emotions…meaning we can control our view of life

Victor Frankl, the Austrian neurologist and Nazi death camp survivor said it best in his classic work Man’s Search for Meaning

“The last of human freedoms – the ability to choose one’s attitude in a given set of circumstances”

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.

What does that mean? Here are some examples I use in our #Lifehacks school presentation:

Example 1:

 If you drop your IPhone and it breaks you have a choice: you can get frustrated and mad at yourself, or you can see that little mishap as an opportunity to spend more time “off the grid” (and get a new phone, lol ). 

Example 2:

Let’s say your favorite football team loses a game to their arch-rivals. The team has a choice: They could chose to blame the bad calls, the weather, the field conditions, etc….OR…..they could choose to watch the game tapes and learn from their mistakes. They could hit the weights and train harder…so that when they meet that team next season, they will have a better chance at defeating them.

In those examples both reactions are completely acceptable, but wouldn’t you agree that the second reaction is more constructive and healthy? It was this concept that kept Frankl alive in the Nazi death camps, even though he was experiencing horrific conditions and death on a daily basis. 

That experience taught him, that we all will go through some tough times, but we all can choose how we are going to cope with it, find a purpose in it (see next habit), and move forward.  

Plan it out!

A couple of years ago, I was talking to a financial planner at one of those awkward networking events where everyone is trying to hold a plate of food and a drink, while also shaking hands, and handing out business cards (remember those days?!) After exchanging pleasantries, he asked me a very strange and seemingly out of blue question (which was probably part of his shtick, but hey, it worked because I still remember it to this day!). He asked me this:

“John, what do you need to successfully complete a jigsaw puzzle?”

I mumbled something about needing a table, lots of patience, or an eye for detail…to which he replied:

“No, you always need to have the picture on the front of the box. Without it, nothing will make sense. You have to know where you are going…and that is where you need to have the picture on the front of the puzzle. It tells you how all of the pieces fit together.”

Brilliant, right? So simple, but yet really profound.

Technology has made us accessible 24/7. Texts and uploads are instantaneous. The strain on our minds and attention spans can break even the strongest amongst us.

Please note I said “can break us” not “will break us”.

What I have found during my darkest days is that having a sense of purpose…having something out there on the horizon that we are aiming for…an elusive light to guide us…has given me strength beyond understanding.

A sense purpose, a.k.a a life purpose, is that picture on the front of the puzzle. It is a constant lens through which we see life that doesn’t change with our moods or circumstance. When our daughter Laura passed away after fighting Mitochondrial Disease for 7 years, it was my life purpose that got me through that time. In fact, it is the reason why I decided to honor my daughter’s life by quitting my job and starting FortSafety.

If you don’t have a life purpose written down somewhere, don’t worry, there are literally 1000’s of books, workshops, and websites out there that can help you do just that…as long as you are willing to put the effort into it. I read the book Life and Purpose by Dr. Brad Swift. It was easy to read and helped me craft a sentence that is still guiding me today.

 One final note about finding your purpose in life: it is not another to do list (“I want to jump off a cliff) or another deadline in your life (“I want to travel to 100 countries before I die)

A life purpose is a short statement that inspires you, focuses you, energizes you, and during times of chaos, strengthens you.

To get you started here is mine:

“I am a warrior for people’s hearts. I want to live an active, healthy, and slightly on the edge life that allows me to travel and experience nature’s beauty, while using my gifts, talents, and experiences to point people towards God”

As George Bernard Shaw said:

“This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one…the being a force of nature instead of a feverish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.”

When we experience the same emotional cycle day after day…with no apparent “light at the end of the tunnel”…we burnout.

John Winstanley
FortSafety 4-Star Winner
4/5

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