Digital burnout: It’s real

Posted on 1 August 2016

While burnout and chronic fatigue have been recognised in the medical field for a long time, the phenomenon of digital burnout is becoming more prevalent in this age of technology. Thato Taka, a psychologist at Mediclinic Welkom, recommends ways to prevent it from affecting you.

What is digital burnout?
Burnout is a psychological term that refers to chronic, long-term exhaustion and a decreased interest in work and hobbies. It’s assumed to result from chronic occupational stress, as well as an overload of the mind. Digital burnout has the same symptoms as regular burnout, but a different set of causes.

Where regular burnout is caused by physical exhaustion and emotional stress from one’s career, it is our social media or online presence and the uptake in mobile devices in that can cause digital burnout. While previously we could leave our job, go home and completely ‘unplug’ from our work life, nowadays our online presence and constant dependency on technology keep us connected to work and social circles all the time.

What are the symptoms?
Digital burnout can be recognised by the same symptoms as ordinary burnout:
•    Decreased physical energy.
•    Emotional exhaustion.
•    Lowered immunity to illness.
•    Decreased investment in relationships.
•    An increasingly pessimistic outlook.
•    Increased absenteeism and inefficiency at work.

How can I protect myself against digital exhaustion?
Thato Taka, a psychologist at Mediclinic Welkom, says: ‘The difficulty with digital burnout is that it is not easily diagnosed due to the fact that people generally don’t think that being constantly online is a problem.

‘Social media and one’s online presence are more often than not viewed as fun or entertainment. What most people don’t realise is that being constantly online and having an online presence is actually work – it demands your attention, energy and time! Anything that requires a significant amount of your attention, energy and time over extended periods can be psychologically harmful in the long run. This means that when people experience burnout, they are more likely to think that it is as a result of other causes and not their ‘other life’ – as in their digital or online presence.’

Thato shares the following six suggestions to prevent digital burnout:
1.    Limit your time on social media and online.
2.    Have a life outside the digital sphere.
3.    Unsubscribe from any platform or emails that no longer serve you.
4.    Deactivate push notifications and alerts.
5.    Declutter your cellphone, tablet, notebook or computer.
6.    Don’t sleep with your cellphone on your bedside table and limit screen time before you go to bed.

Published in Healthy Life

In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.