Three tips for a healthy digital life during the coronavirus outbreak

How do you keep healthy digital habits during the global coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak?

As more people engage in ‘social distancing‘ and ‘self-isolation‘, many of us are becoming more dependant on our digital technology to live our lives. We’re spending more time online to connect, communicate, work, shop, inform and entertain ourselves.

But whilst a more digitally-mediated life may help keep us safe from physical contagion, digital technology has the potential to propagate ‘mental contagion’ as emotions (e.g. fear) thoughts (fake-news, conspiracy theories), and behaviours (online panic buying) spread digitally but virulently through the population.

So, here are three evidence-based digital wellbeing tips for keeping your digital diet healthy during the coronavirus outbreak

  1. Use digital to ‘take back control’. We might feel powerless in the face of a global epidemic, but we can use our digital technology to regain some sense of control and autonomy over our lives. This is important because having a sense of control over our lives has been demonstrated to be essential to our emotional wellbeing. So consider ways you can use digital technology to take back control. This might be as simple as using digital technology to make plans for the future, manage lists or schedules, organise with others, or even go shopping online where you get to exert choice. The key is to use digital actively (rather than passively), and to think of digital as an enabler that extends your autonomy and allows you to develop strategies for coping. For example, you could consider time-boxing your passive screen-time (streaming, viewing, scrolling), and balancing passive viewing with active interaction, where you – and not the screen – are in control.
  2. Use digital to nurture relationships. Social distancing may be good for your physical health, but social isolation is known to be toxic for mental health. So take the opportunity of physical social distancing to re-connect digitally with that friend, family or acquaintance that you never quite got around to re-contacting. And seek to nurture existing relationships by scheduling regular online chats, using digital devices to share positive news, express gratitude, help others and practise acts of kindness. For example, perhaps you could order food and supplies online for less digitally-enabled friends, family or neighbours. Helping others can provide a sense of purpose that can allay personal anxieties. Consider organising group chats, and regular group video chat meetups – seeing a friendly face, even via a screen can reassure. In sum, use the viral outbreak as an opportunity to build or re-build a sense of relatedness, care and affiliation with the people who matter to you and to whom you matter.
  3. Use digital to be smarter. Our wellbeing is influenced by our personal sense of competence, ie. our ability to rise to challenges, make smart choices and experience achievement, mastery or success. So use the opportunity to take an online course, learn a new skill or do the things that truly engage you. And day-to-day, consider using digital health and activity apps to get smarter about looking after your body during the outbreak. You may not be able to get to a gym or class, but you can use digital prompts to stand more, move more and exercise more – even in the confines of a restricted environment. To this end, you might consider downloading an exercise, nutrition, relaxation or mindfulness app. Overall, think about how you can use digital to establish or improve your self-care routine to help you sleep, exercise, and eat well.

In particular, use digital technology to be smarter about your digital information diet. Use free online ‘fact-checking’ services to counter the viral spread of conspiracy theories, urban legends, unfounded rumours and misinformation. Reduce your information intake to just one or two trustworthy and reputable expert information sources (e.g. WHO, national broadcasters). And limit your intake to just one or two regular ‘information meals’ per day, rather than snacking and grazing on 24/7 anxiety and stress-inducing new commentary. Most importantly, get your information direct from a reputable source, and ignore regurgitated digital information that is shared on social media, which could be a source of unfounded, inaccurate, and dangerous misinformation.

In summary, to have a healthy digital life during the coronavirus outbreak means putting digital technology to the service of your ARC of happiness. Together, Autonomy, Relatedness and Competence make up the A, the R and the C or an ARC of happiness, the three evidence-based core drivers of our psychological wellbeing. It is this ARC of happiness that forms the foundations of ‘positive technology‘ – technology deliberately designed to foster and facilitate wellbeing. And it is this ARC of happiness that we need to protect during the coronavirus pandemic.

Sources:

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychologist, 55(1), 68-78.

Calvo, R. A., & Peters, D. (2014). Positive computing: technology for wellbeing and human potential. MIT Press.

Lyubomirsky, S. (2008). The how of happiness: A scientific approach to getting the life you want. New York: Penguin Press.

Written by
Dr Paul Marsden
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Digital wellbeing covers the latest scientific research on the impact of digital technology on human wellbeing. Curated by psychologist Dr. Paul Marsden (@marsattacks). Sponsored by WPP agency SYZYGY.