Power Down: 5 Ways To Fight Digital Burnout

Learn about the connections between screen time and mental health and how you can recognize warning signs of digital burnout

August 15, 2022

Digital burnout, or the feelings of anxiety, exhaustion, and apathy caused by spending too much time on digital devices, is a growing problem.

As technology makes us more interconnected and more of us rely on computers, tablets, and smartphones for work or school, the risk of burning out goes up and up.

Keep Reading To Learn

  • How to recognize if you are struggling with digital burnout
  • The harmful effects of overexposure to news and social media
  • How to manage anxiety related to media consumption in a healthier way
  • Ways to combat digital burnout

A Growing Problem

A 2019 Workplace Productivity Report showed how widespread digital burnout has become.

The study surveyed 1,057 American office workers. Of that group, 87% spent an average of seven hours a day staring at screens. More than half of those surveyed reported fatigue or depression stemming from digital overload.

The increase in burnout has led to action by the World Health Organization (WHO). In 2019, the WHO officially recognized burnout as an “occupational phenomenon” that can influence health status.

The group defines burnout as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”

The WHO says that burned-out individuals have “feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion, increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job and reduced professional efficacy.”

The Perks of Powering Down

Young girl in a window sill using a digital tablet.

Dr. Lisa W. Coyne helps us understand digital burnout, shares signs of screen fatigue, explains the impact of too much screen time, and answers audience questions about our technology habits.

Young girl in a window sill using a digital tablet.

What Is Digital Burnout?

Burnout can affect anyone—even those whose work does not involve much or any digital technology. In fact, people can burn out by doing anything too often or for too long, like taking care of elderly parents, raising children, even exercising too much.

The problem of digital burnout, however, specifically refers to feelings of exhaustion, anxiety, depression, or diminished interest in a job stemming from too much time on digital devices.

Physical signs include sleep disorders, decreased energy, and even chest pains.

Digital burnout can be difficult to diagnose, however, because the problem develops gradually, and people may not know they are burned out until it is too late.

Is Screen Time Making You Anxious?

Though the term digital burnout is specifically job-related, there are other connections between mental health and digital devices.

Watching too much TV or consuming limitless social media can be problematic when it interferes with fulfilling our roles and responsibilities, according to Dr. Jacqueline Bullis.

“Studies show that screen time before bed can lead to insomnia and sleep disturbances, which in turn make us more vulnerable to anxiety, low mood, and irritability,” she says.

Anxiety is an adaptive emotion, preparing us to respond to a future threat. Bullis says that some amount of anxiety is helpful because it reminds us to take appropriate precautions to protect ourselves.

“But many of us may worry about missing something important,” Bullis adds. “That feeds into the urge to continually check our news feeds or keep the news on all day.”

According to Bullis, we can cope with anxiety by accepting what is beyond our control. She suggests “refocusing our attention on factors we can manage.”

How Much News Is Too Much News for Good Mental Health?

Whether it’s politics, natural disasters, health scares, or tragic events, there’s plenty in the news that could provoke anxiety or stress reactions.

According to Bullis, monitoring your news intake may help you manage your anxieties.

When reading or viewing news stories, it’s important to check in and see how they make you feel.

Bullis suggests checking in with yourself by asking, “Do you feel an increased sense of community, connection, and shared humanity, or increased feelings of anxiety and despair?”

“Those who struggle with anxiety and depression sometimes turn to TV or social media as a form of avoidance.”

Staying glued to the television or constantly refreshing our social media feeds may help us feel slightly less anxious in the short term, but these behaviors ultimately have the opposite effect.

“In the long term, these behaviors increase anxiety by feeding into the belief that if we have enough information, we can control what happens,” she says. “The more we seek certainty over what will happen in the future, the more anxious we will feel.

Social Media and Mental Health

Illustration of hands holding smartphones

‘Like’ it or not, using social media can cause anxiety, depression, and other health challenges. How can you change your habits?

Illustration of hands holding smartphones

5 Ways to Fight Back

The most effective way to combat digital burnout is to simply log out, unplug, and relax.

But it’s not that easy.

The 24/7 demands of our connected world make it nearly impossible to go cold turkey and turn away from our digital devices.

With that in mind, here are a few real-world strategies for fighting digital burnout.

1. Don’t Respond Right Away

Many people feel the need to drop what they’re doing and answer messages as soon as they come in. This constant sense of urgency can lead people to feel overwhelmed and anxious.

To fight these feelings, set aside certain times of the day to answer your texts and emails. Remember that not all communication is urgent. Most of it can wait.

2. Leave It at Work

Your phone and computer allow you to be in contact with your coworkers 24/7. But do you really need to stay in touch after business hours?

Try putting your phone away when you are having dinner with the family, taking a walk, or watching a movie.

Also, do not check your work email before you go to bed. Relax and get a good night’s sleep. Your messages will be there in the morning.

Illustration of woman leaning out of tablet like a window

The most effective way to combat digital burnout is to simply log out, unplug, and relax

3. Face-to-Face, Not Screen-to-Screen

How many people do you communicate with exclusively through texts, social media, or email? And how can you start to make small changes in how you communicate?

Connecting digitally, especially with friends and family you can’t see in person, can do wonders for your mental health. But it is not the same as meeting face-to-face.

When you can, connect with friends, family members, and coworkers in person. Meet for coffee or take a walk. And when you do get together, turn your phone off and put it away.

4. Cull Your Digital Herd

How many online accounts do you have? How many social media platforms are you on? Do you need them all? Do you use them all? Probably not.

Go through your phone and computer and delete the stuff you don’t want and don’t need. You’ll cut down on messages and distractions. It will return time to your day—and add some peace to your life.

5. Step Back From the News

While some media consumption is fine, Bullis says that we can take steps to limit our exposure to troubling news.

Determine what information is helpful versus what is unhelpful and can lead to more anxiety.

Be selective about media and stick to trusted sources.

Remove anxiety-provoking information from your social media feeds. If people you follow are filling your feeds with upsetting information, mute or hide their posts.

And, good news is still out there! We can engage with media in ways that help offset feeling worried or upset.

Follow social media accounts that focus on uplifting news. Try Instagram’s @tanksgoodnews, @goodnews_movement, or @upworthy.

Or create a group text with friends or family where you share uplifting news stories with each other.