As physical distancing measures continue to increase in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we have become more reliant on technology than ever before. And technological advances have brought incredible benefits during this time including: the ability to stay closely connected to loved ones, the ability to provide education virtually, the ability for businesses to maintain their workforce by moving to remote employment, and the ability to watch inspiring videos from all over the world that remind us that there is hope amidst the hardship. 

With increased time spent online and interactions via social platforms becoming even more the norm than usual, we must prioritize our digital wellness. Digital wellness, in this context, includes both the proactive measures we take to keep ourselves healthy and balanced, as well as those we take to keep ourselves safe online. Technology, especially in the “COVID world”, is a double edged sword- we rely on it to stay connected to the world around us, but it can also lead to anxiety, stress, and exposure to online scams, harassment, and inaccurate information.

As we navigate the new world that we have found ourselves in, there are specific things that we can do to prioritize our digital wellness– both from a mental health standpoint and from a safety and security standpoint. 

Take Frequent Breaks

It may seem like common sense, but spending a lot of time in front of a computer or television can take a toll on both your mind and body. From a mental health standpoint, excessive screen time has been associated with decreased self-esteem, depression, and loneliness. From a physical standpoint, too much time in front of a screen may cause vision challenges, chronic neck and back pain, and a sedentary lifestyle which can lead to excess weight. 

Consider setting a timer or using some of the built-in functionality on your devices to limit screen time. Take a break to go outside, stretch, take a few deep breaths, or do a 5-minute meditation.

Lead With Kindness

As a society, we are collectively experiencing something unprecedented- and we are seeing it happen in real time. During times like this, it is natural to experience many types of emotions– sadness, anxiety, anger, frustration, resentment, and, at times, even ambivalence. It can also be easy to let those emotions come out when we are behind a keyboard. As we, as a society, move through this period in our lives, being compassionate, empathic, and kind, especially online, is more important than ever. Consider one of the following acts of kindness– online or off.

  • Compliment someone. This could include sharing a note of gratitude with a coworker, friend, or educator or praising someone’s social media content. It costs nothing, and can make all of the difference in someone’s day. 
  • Let someone know that they are appreciated. Now, more than ever, we may benefit from being reminded that we matter (and why).
  • Reach out to someone who you haven’t spoken to in a while, just to see how they are doing and to let them know that you are there for them if needed. Technology has made this easy, and has unified many in just a span of a few weeks. There is no better time than now to reach out.

Be Mindful of Phishing Scams

With an influx of people signing online and increased email volume, there have been reports of phishing scams in the form of fake emails sent by hackers disguised as the CDC or the World Health Organization. These phishing scams attempt to lure recipients into providing personal information and infect your devices with malware. EVERFI’s Vice President of Information Technology, Tim Maffei, shares these tips to help exercise caution:

  •  If you get a suspicious email that looks like it’s coming from someone that you normally contact, email the person directly rather than a reply.
  • Never respond to messages requesting the wiring of funds, purchasing debit cards or similar.
  • Never change your password by clicking on a link from an unsolicited email.
  • If you get a suspicious email where someone is trying to share a document, go directly to the Google Drive or Dropbox’s website to access, and NOT from the email.

By being cautious and diligent about your safety and security online, you can ensure that you are taking your digital health as seriously as you are likely taking your physical health during this time.

Limit Media Consumption– and Choose Credible Sources 

One of the aspects of technology, that is both positive and negative, is the ability to receive information instantly. This is particularly true on social media, where we can easily and quickly scroll through a large amount of information in a short amount of time. Right now, it is hard to turn on your computer without being inundated with news stories, perspectives, and statistics related to coronavirus, and thus feel like it is something inescapable. At this time, spending copious amounts of time-consuming media– particularly when the news is concerning and similarly being reported by multiple new sources– is bound to have a negative impact on one’s mental health.

If you find that the constant stream of information about COVID-19 has you feeling helpless, overwhelmed, sad, or anxious, consider setting limits for yourself around how often you’ll engage with news coverage. Choose one or two reputable news sources, such as the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the World Health Organization, or your local department of public health, and make it a point to check only those. Additionally, consider temporarily hiding apps or unfollowing websites of other news sources for a period of time.