Wellbeing

How To Sort Out Your Online Life To Reduce Anxiety And Help You Focus

Technology and the internet are great resources, but are they negatively affecting your quality of life?

Studies show that the multi-tasking, partial-attention-giving habits young people might develop through the use of technology and the internet are making them more stressed than ever before. With the number of millennials suffering from anxiety rapidly on the rise, there’s no time like the present to develop some healthy behaviours surrounding your internet use.

#1 Three Cheers For OHIO

The “Only Handle It Once” (OHIO) principle can assist with creating economic workflow. The idea is simple: don’t waste time double handling what can be touched once.

The policy can be used very effectively with emails in particular. When you sit down to tackle your inbox (and do this at a set time, not meandering in and out throughout the day), handle each missive only once. There’s even a Google Chrome extension that hides your inbox from you while you’re completing tasks.

Whatever you do, don’t skim an email then hit ‘mark unread’ thinking you’ll get to it later. There are only a few set actions you can take with any email: read and delete or file; forward to whomever needs the information; reply; unsubscribe; and trash. Pick one of these. That way each email gets opened only once, and doesn’t sit in your inbox waiting for a second go around.

Leaving tough emails to sit in your inbox can cause anxiety as you think about how you’ll answer them and whether the sender is getting cranky with your delay. Reading and handling them straight away takes tricky emails off your plate and off your mind.

#2 Practice mindfulness

There is no realm in which being mindful isn’t important, including the internet. Studies show that constantly skimming articles, flicking to new tabs and multitasking while working, interacting on social media and chatting with friends causes stress and can lessen focus and the ability to intelligently process and apply information.

Optimise your time spent online by practicing habits that help you be mindful. Limiting how many tabs you allow yourself to open, or using a “read it later” tool like Evernote or Pocket, which can save you from the distraction of a thousand open tabs, plus you won’t have to hunt to find the page that’s suddenly playing obnoxious music.

And for the sake of all that is holy, switch off automatic email or social media alerts so you can maintain focus.

photo-1462907715766-a2863567b2a4

It’s also important to consider what kind of content you’re giving your attention to, and whether you’re spending time in online environments that make you feel good, inspired and educated, or those that make you feel mean, gossipy or envious.

#3 Perfect your posture, breathe

Former Microsoft executive Linda Stone coined the term “email apnea” to describe the way users of computers and smartphones tend to hunch forward as they look at the screen, preventing them from taking full, deep breaths.

This hunching and shallow breathing can trick the body into thinking it’s in a stressful situation, which can launch other stress responses that further exacerbate the problem.

Try to remember to sit up straight when using the computer or phone, noticing if certain parts of your body are getting stiff or sore and whether you’re holding your breath or breathing too quickly. Learn how to set up your workspaces ergonomically and how to hold your phone to avoid placing unnecessary stress and fatigue on your body.

#4 Schedule social switch offs

Taking a few hours without your phone in hand or the glow of your laptop screen lighting up your face is always a good idea. Even taking a break for a few hours each week can be enough to refresh you and stop your mind whirling with all the information constantly bombarding you from countless screens.

photo-1456689614583-300abc95e75e

Do a bit of exercise without being plugged into headphones and step trackers, make a date with a friend and plan not to take your phones, read a book, write in a journal with pen and paper, bake, bike, bask in the sun. Do anything you please, safe in the knowledge that even though you didn’t Instagram it, it did happen.

#5 Curate your social feeds

Are your feeds full of people you love, ideas you’re inspired by and role models you look up to? Or, are they clogged up with acquaintances you don’t really know, let alone care about, photos that make you envious or angry, and opinions that offend? Now that social media is such a part of daily life, it’s time to start thinking about how to use apps and feeds as tools to create great online environments to connect, share and play in.

Understanding that it’s up to you to decide what fills your feeds rather than others posting content that pleases you is an important part of making social media a positive influence in your life. Take some time to go through your friend and follow lists and hide or unfollow the content that doesn’t make you feel good. You don’t have to unfriend everyone on Facebook, but if they don’t contribute to what you want to see, you can choose to unfollow or “see less” of them.

There’s nothing wrong with aspirational and inspirational follows on platforms like Instagram or Pinterest, but if you’re starting to feel envious or unworthy because the visuals you’re flicking through are unattainable to you, it might be time to switch them off for awhile. Practice discerning whether you’re feeling motivated or inspired, or if you’re shaming yourself and feeling down about what you’re seeing in comparison to what you have.

The internet, computers and smart phones are all amazing resources. But without managing our use of them, they can quickly become a sources of stress, anxiety and unhappiness. Take control of how you interact with technology and behave online to ensure you’re getting the most out of the life online and off.


Lauren Sherritt is a playwright and freelance writer based in Brisbane. Lauren’s work has been featured online at Junkee, The Financial Diet, Birdee, LifeMusicMedia, lip magazine and Australian Stage.