GQ (South Africa)
A healthier relationship with tech
You’ve worked on your physical and mental wellbeing, but now it’s time to focus on your digital health. After a year of dependence on tech, psychotherapist Zoë Aston guides you through how to develop a healthy, reasonable relationship with your screen
THERE COMES A TURNING POINT in anything where what we once thought was unabashedly positive or negative has to be viewed in subtler shades: technology, it seems, is the latest to face this bind. In 2020, we were entirely dependent on tech, both overtly and covertly, to live any semblance of life as usual. While we can no longer see technology as the enemy of society, it also can’t be seen as an absolute boon. Now, a er a year of maximising our screen time and reconsidering what it means to live via video call, we need to look at a more nuanced view: our digital health.
Psychotherapist and mental health consultant Zoë Aston has worked with top companies and gyms as a mental health expert, and she now works with Microso Windows to promote the healthy use of its product. Below are some of the steps she suggests taking to make sure you, your tech and the people contacting you via tech all nd a healthy balance.
1 What is digital health?
It’s an e cient and balanced approach to wellbeing within how we use our technology. Over the past year, technology has been the saving grace for most of our wellbeing needs. We’ve learned to use it for connection and exercise, as an example. So knowing how to use it to support your mental and physical health will be a fundamental foundation of life. Using it to do digital detoxes and managing it as a separate entity from your mental and physical health won’t be an option.
Being connected to technology is no longer optional, but we haven’t yet learnt how to manage our digital health.
2 Make technology work for you
As with mental and physical health, sleep, nutrition, and everything else we do to look a er ourselves, everyone’s slightly di erent, so forcing yourself into a mould that someone else does won’t work. It’ll do your selfesteem no good because you’ll start to tell yourself, ‘ is isn’t working for me, so there must be something wrong with me.’
Ask yourself daily: how much energy do I have? How connected do I feel to the people that matter to me, my work colleagues, friends and family? How relaxed am I? Answering those questions on a scale of one to ten gives you a clear answer as to where you are.
How do you use tech for work? How do you use it for play? How do you use it to relax? How do you use it to be productive? How do you separate those things? When you work from home, there’s no distinction. So your workday seems to go on forever unless you have digital boundaries. So, especially for people working from their living room or kitchen, you have to have something in place that tells you, ‘OK. Now’s the time to transition from work into my evening’, so you look a er your sleep hygiene, relationships and mental health. You could have di erent desktops or use Night Light (a Microso Windows feature that alters colour temperature to help you sleep a er sitting in front of a screen), which is a useful tool to help you transition. »
KEEP A DIGITAL DIARY
Recording your digital habits as you would food or exercise, you’ll start to notice your “digital diet”. Humans are like computers; we have processes. Sometimes they run, and we know about them, but sometimes we don’t know about them. A digital diary helps you become aware of the things you do in your digital life, and whether it’s helpful or unhelpful to you, or something you want to change or not. When I’m working with clients in therapy, it’s always about getting them to a place where they have a choice. is digital diary provides that for people who use it. I suggest they do it for a couple of weeks to get a handle on their daily or weekly patterns. It also helps them understand their emotional response to how they use tech.
Move your body
ink about your digital and physical life as one; what you do in one bene ts the other. I’m into exercise because it helps me process my thoughts. If I get stuck, I walk around the block or go for a run. I’m more productive once I return to work having blown away the cobwebs.
e lockdown has robbed us of inspiration. e brain is hardwired for growth, so lockdown fatigue resulted in our brains not being fed properly. Usually, we’re out and about, seeing people, and drawing inspiration and motivation from things, but that hasn’t been available. With tech, there are lots of ways to have fun, unlock your imagination and be more creative.
7 Make sure other people understand your boundaries
Boundaries are fundamental to your mental health. So, ultimately, it’s your responsibility to enforce them, as an act of self-care and self-love, rather than based on fear, which makes it more di cult. If you set a boundary because it’s outcome is positive for you, and will empower you to use technology for good, then there’s no reason why other people should be allowed to “make you” cross that boundary. But it’s all about what’s going on inside you.
When I conduct digital consultations with my clients or look at their digital diaries,
I’m interested in what feelings those activities evoke. When you change a habit, make a transition, how do you respond emotionally? Our digital lives are as unique as our ngerprints, and when we change them, we fundamentally shi something to which we’re very attached. Understanding your attachments to your habits, and the ideas that society gives us about how available we have to be, brings up emotions.
e hardest part of setting a boundary – across the board – is holding it because that’s where all those uncomfortable feelings are. Just because we’re talking about digital health and our virtual lives, it doesn’t make boundaries any less real. It’s what’s happening now, so they’re as tangible as if you were saying to someone, ‘Please can you stay two metres away from me.’
8 Appreciate the positive habits you’ve cultivated
We’ve learnt to communicate and connect, and how to distinguish between the two. When you email work colleagues, you’re communicating with them. But if you extend an olive branch to someone you haven’t spoken to in a while, or you want to check on them because you know they mightn’t be handling the lockdown well, then that’s more a connection.
A positive habit we formed during 2020 was using tech for more exciting things than work.
I know many peoples’ morning routines transitioned them into tech. But, let’s face it: we wake up with alarms, and as soon as we’re awake, we’re attached to technology. I think knowing what you need to do in between transitions, whether that means moving your body, eating breakfast, or looking a er yourself in other ways, is also a positive habit. at way, you don’t just go straight to scrolling through social media or doing something that’s not particularly helpful.
e lockdown highlighted our negative digital habits because we really felt it. It wasn’t like we could get up, walk away and say,
‘ is isn’t good for me.’ We felt the consequences of our bad relationship with technology, which forced many of us to change what we were doing.
I think many good things came out of last year, in terms of digital health.
9 How to practise digital health if you’re in full isolation
It varies slightly, depending on the age group. e elderly need more help with technology because they haven’t grown up with it. If you’ve got older people in your life, o er to help them. ey may be embarrassed to ask about it or get frustrated with it quickly. But they’re also the most likely to be in isolation, as are single millennials in their thirties.
ose living in true isolation lose their sense of belonging, which is one of our basic needs.
ey may experience a decline in mental health, such as depression and anxiety, especially during winter. at mightn’t necessarily mean having a full-on Microso Teams meeting with loads of people, or even a formal conversation with someone. Have someone on Skype while you’re cooking dinner, or chatting with you before settling down to read a book. You could even ask a friend to do a mindfulness exercise or a workout with you. You shouldn’t consider the idea of connection an energy sapping conversation; it should provide company. Being alone for a long time is devastating, for anyone. Even introverts need connection.
WHAT IF YOU WORK UNUSUAL OR ERRATIC HOURS?
People who work shi s are more likely to su er from mental health issues because operating on such random times can wreak havoc on your body clock. Using technology to enforce digital health improves your overall health. It also means that, say, for example, you’ve got kids, and you’re working a nine-to- ve one day, and then, two days later, you’re working from 11pm to 4am, you’ll still be able to know what’s going on and how to reach them.
Sync your calendar, emails and SMSS, so that if your plans change drastically, you’re able to stay on top of things via your phone or PC. We’d all prefer our lives to be structured. With technology, you can import structure into all aspects of it. We’re all about empowering people with technology: use it to give you a structure and routine.
‘Being alone for a long time is devastating, for anyone. Even introverts need connection’