Digitalization and health - does the digitalization harm our psyche?

Published on: 13 Apr 20:40

It’s buzzing, vibrating, blinking, beeping – we are online, 24/7. Sometimes it’s important, sometimes not really. Smartphones, laptops, tablets – everything can be charged, but what about our own batteries? Does the digitalization, accompanied by stimulus satiation, affect our health? This topic is especially relevant for people who are confronted by the digialization every day in their professional life and who rarely see their colleagues and clients or only via videocall. So what are the advantages and disadvantages of the digitalization for our psyche?

Lukas Bieri

Self-determination, flexibility and time saving

Due to the digitalization, home office and remote work are more and more facilitated. Thereby, flexibility of time and place is granted to employees and freelancers. This in turn enforces self-determination and a better work-life-balance. One can choose to work only in productive moments, to take a rest when one needs to, to look after the children when the nanny gets ill, etc. According to a longterm study of the university of St. Gallen with the topic “work online and live healthy”, this flexibility reduced sleep problems by 30% and sick notes by 14% within two years.

Overloading, permanent availability, loneliness and stress

Although the positive aspects are usually appreciated and more relevant to freelancers and remote workers than the negative ones, they shouldn’t be forgotten.

The daily flood of information as well as the pressure of (assuming to) having to be available the whole time can lead to an overloading, which in turn can result in stress, insomnia and even burnout.

Adaptation pressure

Besides, the permanent technological development is stressful for employees, who have to appropriate every innovation, which also means more and more complexity. 28% of the persons concerned feel a high pressure of adaptation, because they fear not to keep up and get fired in consequence. About the latter they worry a lot, also because many workplaces (especially repetitive work) have been substituted by machines and lots of people have lost their jobs. (More details about the topic “Industry 4.0 – Digitalization and the future of industrial production. Will we be substituted by robots?” can be found in this blogpost).

Work intensification

Other stress factors, especially for freelancers, are the increasing amount of work as well as the work intensification. Usually, remote workers are being paid and controlled more according to performance rather than to time, which means they work intensively. High concentration is required in short periods, before taking a break. Some clients or employers expect the employees or freelancers to work more than they actually can achieve. But instead of negating the amount of work, they tend to accept it for appearing responsible and efficient. This can lead to stress to fulfill the tasks in a certain amount of time but often results in unpaid overtime.

Distractions and concentration difficulties

Working online means also to have a lot of possibilities to get distracted. Here an e-mail, there a video or a whatsapp message, etc. But not only the internet offers lots of distraction material, also at home (for home office workers) there may are children crying, the partner asking for help or the postman ringing the bell. It’s very important to try to comply a certain time for work and to avoid distractions for not disturbing the concentration constantly. For getting into the phase of effortless concentration, our brain needs 15 minutes every time we get disturbed. Therefore, checking the messages every 10 minutes leads to permanent stress while working, even if it’s happening inconsciously.

Communication deficites

Another stress factor are communication deficits. The interpersonal communication takes place via digital media, which lets face to face communication fall along the wayside. Freelancers and digital nomads don’t have the same colleagues for a long time, and if that’s the case then they probably see them only via videoconferences. Digitalization leads to loneliness, which can not be compensated by social media. The latter actually don’t make happy but addicted.

Prevention methods

In spite of the large number of disadvantages, there is no need to worry about. Several prevention mechanisms can be taken:

Digital Detox

After a long day of work on the computer and with other digital gadgets, it’s helpful not to use any electronic devices afterwards. Therefore, digital free times and rooms should be established. In this way, overstimulation and permanent availability can be restrained. But also during working hours it’s important to take (digital free) breaks for refueling the body with new energy for the next productive concentration phase.

Fixed hours of work and freetime

The latter should also be arranged with the customer or employer. Agreeing about fixed working hours but also fixed hours of freetime (for example at the weekend) should not be an issue. Nevertheless, in case of someone demanding to much availability, it should not be acquisced. The increasing flexibility should be an advantage for both sides.

Fairness and use of strengths

Job offers and orders should only be accepted if they are paid fairly and with a focus on the use of strengths. It doesn’t help to work in something without having any interest or talent in this area. Using the own strengths and working for something that is considered as useful, often leads to having more fun and being more motivated and effective at work.

Mindfulness and more consciousness

To know oneself and to set realistic goals from the beginning, helps a lot for being able to defend ones limits and to set the right priorities. The ability of saying “no” sometimes doesn’t cause the end of the world, instead, it leads to less stress and to more respect! Also, it is important not to charge too much work on the colleagues if they seem to get overextended. A bit empathy might help.

Due to the digitalization, the classic health subjects like exercising and nutrition are getting replaced by the topics psychical health, stress management, mindfulness and sleep.

Whether the digitalization is good or bad for our health, depends on the individual. Some people can adapt pretty quickly to new situations and like diversity and challenges, others feel pressured and risk therefore health problems. Some people enjoy working alone and from home while others need regular contact to other people (not online). The most important thing is to listen to the own body and mind for being able to represent self-determined and with self-consciousness the own interests without harming others.