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How to Overcome Digital Overwhelm, Once and For All

Overcome digital overwhelm + digital overload

With an irresistible force as strong as a black hole, digital reality can suck you into a Never Never Land where you lose all track of time, sense of dimension, and gravity of importance.  Without question, digital engagement can be addictive.  In fact, university students have described digital media as a “drug.”

In a major research study, more than 1,000 college students around the world were asked to go without media for a 24-hour period.   They used terms like “addiction” and “withdrawal” to describe the decidedly distressful experience.  Imagine itching like a crackhead because you can’t use your phone.  Without their digital accessories – for just a single day – many students reported feeling sad, lonely, depressed, or even “dead”.

Do you too sometimes feel like you can’t resist the call of digital media?  The truth is it’s not easy to disconnect – for almost everyone, not just you.  Scrolling through email, typing out text messages, and looking at rising blog statistics can fire up the brain’s dopamine reward system creating a pleasure-inducing hit that has even become clinically addictive for about 6% of the population.

Isn’t it a relief to know you’re not alone?

There are many practical fixes for digital madness to help reduce the insanity.  But like any addiction or unhealthy habit, digital fascination tends to return to haunt you again and again.  That’s certainly happened for me.

So how do you uproot digital overwhelm once and for all? 

In addition to taking practical steps like time tracking and using effective online tools to block the internet, it’s vital to make a deep change at the core level of your being if you wish to see lasting results.  This means taking time to look deep within.

Let’s begin by looking at impermanence, the memory of which can naturally snap you back to your true priorities.  Then, let’s move on to exploring what drives excessive digital involvement.

Appreciating the Fragility of Life

Life is comprised of moments.  These moments of time are extraordinarily precious because – in a material sense – they are limited. No matter what your age, when you go to sleep at night, you don’t know for certain you’ll wake up in the morning.  You don’t know how or when you’ll die.   But there is one certainty:  death awaits you.

Life flickers in the flurries of a thousand ills,

More fragile than a bubble in a stream.

In sleep, each breath departs and is again drawn in;

How wondrous that we wake up living still!

-Nagarjuna

Although we have a vague awareness that we will die one day, usually, we don’t allow our way of life to be affected by this ever-present possibility.  Often, we live on automatic pulled hither and thither by whatever arises around us like a leaf blown about in the wind.

Instead, you can use the reality of impermanence to infuse your life with clarity, meaning, and purpose.  Remembering impermanence will naturally help you get your priorities straight, make the best choices possible, and waste less time in the digital realm as you come to appreciate the preciousness of each fleeting moment.  As a result, you’ll feel happier and more content too.

The secret is to reflect on impermanence each and every day. Spend a short period of time – maybe 5 to 15 minutes each morning – reflecting on impermanence by bringing to mind the display of change occurring around you.  For example:

  • Flowers blooming and then fading.
  • The arrival of a new season.
  • A shift in political leadership.
  • A birth, death, or separation.
  • A friend’s sudden illness or disability.
  • The loss or gain of possessions or wealth.
  • Shattering world events like earthquakes, tsunamis, and hurricanes.
  • The fading of a celebrity.
  • Changes in your body.
  • The uncertainty of your own death.
  • The way that nothing truly stays the same for a single moment as atoms move wildly though invisibly about.

Close your reflection by cultivating gratitude for the day ahead.  Then make a vow to use the day’s passing moments wisely.  If the idea of death is too strong for you, reflect instead on change, the preciousness of life, and the gift of time you’ve been given in this life to actualize your full potential as a human being.

Bringing about a real change in the depth of your heart by contemplating impermanence – not just once, but often – will make you think twice before whiling away time in unnecessary and unfulfilling digital involvement.

Cultivating a Sense of Self-Worth from Within

All man’s difficulties are caused by his inability to sit, quietly, in a room by himself.” – Blaise Pascal

Another way the digital world entraps people is by playing upon their insecurities and need for validation.  Constant digital involvement makes you feel wanted, included, “liked,” “befriended,” “encircled” and even loved  So much so that the idea of sitting quietly on  your own, without a digital hook-up, can stir a rising panic.  Or, as the students said above, leave you feeling sad, lonely, anxious, or depressed.

In another scenario, as a blogger driven by the number of visits and comments on your blog, you may react by feeling compelled to do more:  more social media, more comments on other blogs, more blog posts, more guest posts, more, more, more.   Until finally it starts to get out of hand and you find yourself digitally engaged day and night.

Digital engagement seems to multiplying our need for external validation 1000-fold, driving us like a relentless boss to spend more time online than we ever intended.

One part of the solution is to cultivate a sense of self-worth and value from within rather than falling prey to external validation.

We all have a genuine need for attention, acceptance, affection, appreciation, and a sense of permission to be ourself.  However, many of us did not have these needs fully met as children.  Thus, as adults, we may be ruled by deceptive brains messages like “I’m not good enough” or “My value depends on being perfect” or “No one likes me.”   These incorrect messages can drive us to seek external validation, which the digital world will eagerly supply.  But, sadly, it’s often in a superficial way.

Here are some questions for reflection to help you begin to dig out the underlying personal forces that compel you to go digitally overboard.  Spend some serious time reflecting or journaling about them.  You may want to explore this over the course of a week or even longer.  Be honest with yourself.  Understanding yourself is the basis for realigning your digital engagement in a healthy way.

  • What drives you to spend more time online or hooked up than you intend to?
  • Which of your needs are being met online?
  • Is there an underlying emotion or thought pattern driving your over-engagement?
  • Is there something you’re avoiding – an activity, a feeling, a relationship – when you go online?
  • Are you afraid of missing out on something if you’re not online?

Then consider:

  • How do I validate, nourish, and appreciate myself?
  • Do I spend time on some form of self-appreciation and self-care everyday?
  • What new messages can I create and regularly feed myself to counter any mistaken beliefs I’ve developed about myself?

Writing a daily gratitude or accomplishment list is a simple and effective way to consistently validate yourself and redress these mistaken ideas, rewire your brain in a positive way, and increase your clarity and confidence.   In your gratitude list or gratitude journal you can include:

  • Whatever you feel grateful for each day.
  • Your accomplishments for the day.  Don’t forget the small ones, they count too!
  • The ways you validated and took care of yourself during the day.
  • The positive changes you are making both unhooking from digital overload and countering any negative self-talk.
  • Affirmations and positive messages to yourself.

There’s nothing wrong with having some of our needs met in a healthy way through our digital connections.  The ability to communicate and connect with people all over the world via digital means is amazing, isn’t it?  We can use our digital involvement to feel empowered and enriched as long as we also value our time, know when to stop, and have a positive sense of self-worth that doesn’t depend exclusively on digital validation.

Use these two methods – reflecting on impermanence and cultivate a positive sense of self-worth – regularly and especially when you feel compelled to do more than you desire in the digital realm.  They’re meant to cut digital overwhelm at its very roots.

How do you manage your life so you don’t become overwhelmed by digital engagement?  I would love to hear.

Thank you so much for reading.  I would be so grateful if you were to share this post! May you be well, happy, and safe – always.  With love, Sandra

 

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16 Comments

  1. It’s so true Sandra…it is a black hole down which we can lose ourselves far too easily, for whatever reasons unique to us. I found this particularly interesting during these past few weeks with family visiting. I had less time, or inclination, to be online because spending time with our two little ones was a far more precious use of the time available.

    And I think this is key, at least for me, having something more valuable that I truly desire to be involved in. So I’m sticking with the practice I used these past few weeks. Get online…do what I need to do…and get off, until the next thing needs my attention.

    I can attest to this being a much better, healthier and happier investment in my day.

    Thanks for the reminder. 🙂

    • Those little ones really gave you such a precious gift with this insight, Elle! This story is so inspiring and it really encourages me to keep tuning into what’s really important. Then the online stuff will naturally take its rightful place. I’m glad you’re finding this focused approach to your online times a better, healthier and happier investment of your time.

  2. I think this is a great post Sandra, and SOOOOO relevant to almost all of us! I’m not sure I have this particular thing licked. I try and turn off my tech when I’m with someone, so I can be fully present – whether that’s putting the phone on airplane mode, or just keeping it in my bag, and I’ve also removed some of the apps on my phone so that I don’t just check them without thinking. And I don’t have any of the notification noises on, and the notifications are off entirely for some of them. But…it’s so addictive, there’s still work for me to do 🙂

    • Those are huge steps, Ellen! It seems you’re at least halfway there. And, I so agree that there’s this addictive quality. I’m working with it too. And I have this beautiful land that could take the place of unnecessary digital doing.

  3. I enjoyed your suggestions on how we can contemplate over impermanence.

    Yes, digital overwhelm is an issue that I am concerned about. I make it a point not to be on Facebook all day. My response time as indicated by FB is more than half a day, which suggests that I am not very prompt….but this is okay for me.

    Despite knowing that I should be online when my target audience is awake, I still shut down my laptop anyway because it is my nighttime and it is time for my meditation session. I have since learned that spending more time online is not necessarily better.

    • Thank you, Evelyn. You seem to have a very sane approach to your online time. I’m so sorry that Facebook added that “response” time bit to our timelines. Who needs more pressure. I don’t let that rule me either.

      I resonate with what you said about your target audience too. I’m in the middle of the Pacific Ocean in my own time zone so I’m rarely in sync with the bulk of my audience! It’s so inspiring to hear how you draw the line, shut down your laptop and meditate. I’m off to do that now too!

  4. So true Sandra, just love the quote All man’s difficulties are caused by his inability to sit, quietly, in a room by himself.” – Blaise Pascal and it is so true. I know that taking time each day to be in nature, be grateful, meditate and journal gives me the balance not to be overwhelmed by digital overload. I also am taking a day away from the computer most weeks and that helps too. xxoo

    • You have such a great offline routine, Suzie! I’ve taken a day off a week in the past and would love to return to that practice. Today we’re going to have a play day so aside from this morning visit, I won’t be on much. Thanks for inspiring us.

  5. I love this post Sandra. When I first started blogging a few years ago, I was obsessed with getting comments on the blog itself. It wasn’t until I realised that I probably didn’t like leaving comments myself that I let that go.

    Now I don’t bother at all but just write for the sheer pleasure of it. I know my blogs are being read and comments don’t matter.

    I do like what you said about impermanence. Everything is.

    • I think you’ve really found the key, Madonna, by writing for the sheer pleasure of it and not worrying about the rest. I’m sure your readers feel the energy of that!

  6. If we were to be honest with ourselves, Sandra, many of us are either completely addicted to digital media or on the verge of it. I wrote about Facebook addiction at my blog back in 2014 and then republished it on Publisher last year and had a lot of connections write and tell me that they too spend too much time on the internet, especially Facebook. 🙂

    Self discipline is important. I have a set amount of time for each of the social media platforms where I engage with my audience.

    I do love to know what my friends who are scattered all over the world are upto and share in their joys and support them in their sorrows but when I am communicating with my neighbor via Facebook, then I think its time to reassess what’s going on!

    • You’ve really touched on the truth here, Vatsala! I like the way you’re approaching media, using a set time for each one. Discipline really is so key, isn’t it!

      I have friends all over the world too so I appreciate being able to stay in touch with them as well. And my wider community in Hawaii have a big presence on Facebook that helps us stay connected to.

      Thanks for sharing your approach.

  7. Hi, Sandra

    Like Suzie, I really love the quote of Blaise Pascalin “All man’s difficulties are caused by his inability to sit, quietly, in a room by himself.” It is so true we are so worry if we are not doing something or connecting to people.

    Yet just like you said we need to know why we have to connect with SM. I am using scheduling and daily goal to combat the problem of staying too longer in the digital world. The situation is getting better.

    Love the post Sandra

    Stella Chiu

    • I’m so glad you found some good methods to keep digital overwhelm in check, Stella. It’s an inspiration for me. I hope it keeps getting better and better for you!

  8. I use to be a library maven. I could spend all day in the stacks, roaming and discovering all kinds of knowledge. Then the internet came along and I could type in anything I wanted to know. So, I still get lost and emerge with time unaccounted for. Social media can be a trap, but it’s like anything else, you have to be selective. I love the blogging groups I belong to and they do take up time. But then again, I’ve learned so much from wonderful bloggers I would not have come into contact with. Thanks for sharing such a keen perspective on how to have balance in this digital world.

    • There’s much goodness in the online world, isn’t there, Joyce! Thanks for reminding me. I think you are so right, it’s about being selective and finding the right amount of online time for ourself. It will be so different for each of us. I love these sense of enrichment I feel from your experience.

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