5 tips on how to prepare for autumn mentally and digitally

Carmen Raal on digital well-being

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While we are forced to spend more and more time online, it is increasingly more challenging to unplug. Since digital wellbeing is considerably affecting our physical and mental health, I looked at some ways we could protect it behind the computer.

Did you know that smokers don’t get burned out as quickly as non-smokers? Not because smoking suddenly got healthy but because they find more time for themselves.

During those past years, the lines between work life and personal life have got even more blurred. A home office allows us to have more flexibility, but for many, however, this added more responsibilities. I have to admit that more often I catch myself responding to emails past 9 PM, and eyeing my computer during the weekends to get some work done ahead of Monday. Let’s be honest, my habit to reply after work hours is not only toxic to myself, but it’s also harmful to the person who might be enjoying their free evening.

I am still a huge fan of digitalisation and all those opportunities that computer literacy skills and access to the Internet could bring – e.g accessibility for people with disabilities, more possibilities for people living in rural areas, being able to connect regardless of the physical distance etc. But we also have to recognise what effect being constantly behind the computer and plugged-in can have on our mental health. 

Hence, I went on a quest to find out how to achieve a better balance in my life, especially since September is nearing, and besides dedicating myself to work, I will continue with my master’s degree. 

With these tricks and tips, consistency is the key. Unfortunately, it’s not a skill I am known to possess. So I decided to engage my colleagues in those endeavours after I return from my vacation since it is easier to form good habits when involving people around you. I hope reading this article will also make my colleagues happy 🙂 

  • Take frequent breaks. This is the most obvious one but the most difficult to implement. As I mentioned at the beginning, smokers take frequent breaks and are less likely to get burned out. Don’t start smoking but do start taking breathing and stretching breaks. If you are a student or your job requires a lot of memorising then this is even more necessary for you. Our brain saves information during breaks.
  • Educate yourself about cyber hygiene. Trust me, this is necessary for your wellbeing. Being constantly online exposes us to new risks we might have not been aware of before. Although working from home can remove certain dangers, you now have to recognise the new realm of cyber risks. When it comes to cyber attacks, humans still tend to be the weakest link. Opening one sketchy file is the only thing needed to expose yourself to a hacker. In Estonia, it is common practice to educate public sector employees on cyber risks. I would like to encourage all employers to implement this in their common practice while onboarding new employees, and organise workshops yearly to remind people of the importance of cyber hygiene. Just like we continue reminding people of regular hygiene practices. Wash your hands! 
  • De-clutter your desktop. You can tell I am overwhelmed simply by looking at my desktop. Besides storing unnecessary junk being bad for the environment, it can also be bad for you. Cluttered physical space can overload us with too much sensory information. The main task of our brain is to keep us alive, which is why it notices everything new around us. If this applies to messy environments, it also applies to our virtual environment. 
  • Do one thing at a time. If you have to write a report then turn off your Slack (or any other) notifications. I will always remember the advice I received some time ago from a lovely woman. Only emergency care providers have to rush –  everyone else has time. In recent years being a multi-tasker has become a survival skill for many. The truth is that we can properly focus on only one thing at a time. I remember reading that multitasking can negatively affect your mental abilities, and this is a risk I am not willing to take. 
  • Unplug at least an hour before you go to sleep. Another simple truth we all probably have heard of yet have never been able to follow long term. Good sleep is important for our body and mind. However, I at least have been getting less sleep, and what is more important, less deep sleep. But I guarantee you that reading a book instead of scrolling mindlessly before sleep allows you to wake up happier the next morning. 

I think these are the first changes I am able to implement at once. The mental health crisis around us has shown that it is not adequate to try to make changes only on an individual level but this is where we can start. Even though so much has changed around us with so little time, there are many things that we have to do on a policy level to make sure that we as a society can live happier and healthier lives.

Speakers’ Corner is an article series where the e-Estonia Digital Transformation advisers talk about the digital society and their personal experiences related to using public e-services. 


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