In countries all around the world, people are staying at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, caused by the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2.
Some countries are under strict lockdown, with residents unable to leave the house except for essential reasons. In other countries and regions, the cafes, pubs, and entertainment venues have closed down, and people are strongly encouraged to work from home. Even in those regions where businesses are remaining open, we are “social distancing” – spending more time alone, when we’d usually be mingling.
In a sense we are lucky that this pandemic appeared in an era when almost everyone has fast broadband or access to a 4G (or even 5G) data network. Through video calling we can continue to hold meetings, chat to family and friends, or even attend classes or clubs through video links. We can continue to communicate, access news and information, and watch films on Netflix. Those who work in office jobs are discovering that they can do their work from home just as well as at the office.
Even with all these digital conveniences, staying at home all day can be mentally tough. I know this very well, as a freelancer who has primarily worked from home for the past three years. When you are stuck in the house all day, perhaps seeing nobody all day, you can quite quickly get the sense that you are going crazy.
Often, being online constantly makes this worse. When the situation is developing so quickly, when everyday countries are closing their borders and imposing restrictions on business and movement, it’s only natural to want to stay informed about these developments constantly. We then find all our thoughts and conversations revolve around the COVID-19 situation, and we quickly become anxious.
When you are stuck at home with unlimited access to information and entertainment via digital devices, it’s important for your mental health to manage your relationship with these devices.
On this blog, I usually go in-depth, with each post covering one topic, app, or book. This coronavirus crisis seems the perfect time to take a different approach, and summarise a few of the things I have learned over the years.
So here are my 7 digital habits for using technology in the healthiest way when you’re stuck at home…
#1: Clean up your phone
Do you have social media apps installed on your phone? I recommend deleting them. You really won’t miss them, and you can always access social media on a laptop / desktop computer.
At the very least, disable the notifications that you don’t need. This helps you take proactive actions in-line with your intentions, rather than constantly reacting to notifications from your device.
You can also make your phone’s home screen less distracting. When you open your phone to a bunch of colourful and shiny icons, it’s easy to go off track. Make your phone more boring so you don’t do this. On Android, you can install the excellent Siempo, which gives you a simple, monochrome home screen with simple, dull icons. Siempo is not available on iPhone, but instead, you can switch your phone to grayscale (Settings -> Accessibility -> Display & Text Size -> Colour Filters -> Greyscale).
#2: Put your phone aside
Usually I’d suggest you “Leave you Phone at Home”, but that would be unfair in these times, wouldn’t it?
The principle remains: you don’t need your phone on your person at all times. Maybe you can leave it in another room, on silent, whilst you have dinner, watch a movie, or read a book. When you’re stuck at home, it’s more important than ever to make time for relaxation, so don’t let your phone disturb you.
#3: Limit your news consumption
In normal times, I’m a fan of news detoxing. So much of the news is negative or sensational, and yet it rarely affects our day-to-day lives.
During the coronavirus pandemic, that’s no longer true. Every day there are new developments such as borders closing, restrictions on our movement, and financial support measures from government. Many of these developments will directly affect us, so full news detox probably doesn’t feel like an option, unless you can count on a someone close to you keeping you informed of the essentials.
However, it is not healthy to watch these developments constantly. News websites produce live reporting pages on major stories, which are constantly updated. That helps their business: they keep you coming back to hold as much of your attention as possible, and show you more advertisements. It doesn’t help your mental health.
Before the Internet, people typically consumed news in a dedicated session once a day, on TV or the radio. Many would switch off after watching the initial headlines and main story.
These days, there is new news every minute, and we tend to consume it in a fragmented way throughout the day. If we’re not careful, this can put us into a constant state of anxiety, especially so during a pandemic.
I suggest you schedule your consumption of news. Perhaps you can watch the 10 o’clock news on TV (or whatever is available in your area). If you prefer to read online, then schedule a dedicated, but time-limited session, then abstain for the rest of the day. No more than half an hour should be necessary for most of us. By scheduling in this way, you’ll stay informed, but you can place your attention on healthier, more productive activities for most of the day.
#4: Schedule your time
Scheduling needn’t end with limiting news consumption.
When working from home, it’s so easy to mix up your work life with the rest of your life. When you work at an office, you associate the office environment with work, and you associate your home environment with leisure activities. After leaving the office, you can generally forget about work tasks.
But when your home is your office, this can all get mixed up. You’ll be tempted to do chores, go to the kitchen, or check on your family when you were intending to work. At the end of the day, you may have work left to complete and you feel guilty, so you work late into the evening. Instead of a focused 8 hour day, you find yourself doing a 12 hour day with constant distractions. This means you won’t have as much time to really turn off and relax.
So makes a schedule and stay disciplined. Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t always follow the schedule – that won’t help! But do keep using a schedule, and the more you practice, the more you will find you are able to follow the schedule. By scheduling your work, you’ll be rewarded with more time for leisure.
You can also schedule a few of the most important leisure activities to ensure they are not forgotten.
#5: Take time off from work, and devices
The paradigm of the modern work day, is that we limit work to 8 hours, and this is supposed to grant us 8 hours for recreation and 8 hours for sleep. Somehow, for many people, 8 work hours become 10, then add another 2 hours for commuting, and half the day is gone. We barely have enough time for eating and personal hygiene, so we often don’t have any real recreation time until the weekend.
If you’re now working from home, you have a huge opportunity. No more commuting! In theory, you may have an hour or two more for leisure, and the 8 / 8 / 8 paradigm can become your reality.
But that opportunity can easily be wasted if you’re constantly distracted by your devices. You can lose hours to YouTube or Twitter, instead of starting that new hobby you’ve been meaning to take up.
It’s hard to do this when digital devices (phones, tablets, laptops) are our portal to the outside world, through which we communicate with colleagues, family, and friends. But if you schedule some offline time, you’ll feel so much more healthier.
There are different ways you can implement this. You could try Tech-Free Evenings, where you switch off all your devices after a set time, allowing you to unwind and relax in the hours before bed. Another method is to take a Tech Sabbath, where one day of your weekend is spent entirely offline.
#6: Move your body every day
Yes, I’m talking about exercise! This may not sound like a digital habit, but it is. Using a digital device, you tend to lose awareness of your body. The more time you spend online, the more necessary it is to move your body. This will increase your body awareness, and allow you to maintain a healthy mind-body connection.
If you’re stuck at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, you’ll naturally get less exercise than you otherwise would… unless you plan for it.
If you’re able to leave the house to go for a walk, jog, or cycle, I’d encourage you to do so. A little fresh air and sunlight will do you good. Of course, you should observe any restrictions or social distancing advice for your area.
Some countries are under a more strict lockdown, and even leaving the house to exercise is forbidden. Don’t allow your inner sloth to use this as an excuse!
You don’t even need any equipment. You can do body weight exercises: sit-ups, squats, and push ups. And you can still do cardio: 100 star jumps, or running on the spot for 5 minutes. It may not sound cool, but hey, you’re no longer in school, it doesn’t have to be.
And feel free to dance – shut the curtains, and dance like nobody is watching! Because they’re not.
As well as activating your body through exercise, it’s helpful to calm it with meditation. It doesn’t have to be formal meditation… you may prefer a bubble bath.
We need meditation more than ever due to our constant technology use. But digital technology can also be a force for good here: it can help you establish a meditation habit.
There are many meditation and mindfulness apps available: some paid, some free, some with guided meditations, and some which offer simple meditation timers. Check the mobile apps section on this website for reviews of some of the most popular meditation apps for iPhone and Android phones.