5 healthy online habits to practice while studying and working from home

A hand holding a phone on a backdrop of the city
Photo credit: Jakob Owens on Unsplash

The pandemic has been our reality for a majority of this year. With self-isolation and lockdowns in place, most people are staying inside and working or studying from home. This has resulted in increased screen time and social media use.

According to a report by Hootsuite and We are Social, July 2020 saw a rise of 10.5 per cent in social media usage compared to July 2019. In addition, the Centre for Addictions and Mental Health (CAMH) reported that 50 per cent of Canadians reported worsening mental health since the beginning of the pandemic.

While there are a multitude of factors that can negatively affect people’s mental health, spending significantly more time on social media can lead to loss of productivity. 

Ryerson RTA alumnus Bailey Parnell founded Safe Social, a brand raising awareness on using social media in a safe way. The company looks at social media’s impact on mental health and creates solutions to help people stay healthy before, during, and after social media use. 

Parnell said everything that is negative on social media prior to the pandemic has become “more intense and more frequent.”

“[This year], the news cycle was about healthcare, or lack thereof, or about Black people dying at the hands of white people,” said Parnell. “Without things like commuting distracting us from unhealthy social tendencies, all risks online are being felt with greater impact.” 

She recommends that people build soft skills like mindfulness that can be useful when consuming heavy news online during the pandemic.

“If you’re mindful of what you’re consuming, you may consume less of it,” she said. “However, [being hyper aware of news] may make you fully consume and actively engage with it.”

As the digital world becomes the default way to work, learn and socialize for many, caring for our mental health during this time is more important than ever.

Here are a few tips.

Build a routine that creates deliberate offline time

With meetings, classes and work all happening online, the line separating these different parts of our lives can get blurry or sometimes even disappear. By intentionally creating times away

from the screen to walk, read a book or pick up an offline hobby, you can rest your eyes from looking at a screen all day to escape from constant notifications.

In addition to scheduling offline time, it is important to create a routine so you can get into the right mindset of either being productive or relaxing as you work or study from home. 

Set boundaries with co-workers and/or classmates

Even though we are at our laptops more when studying and working from home, it can still be stressful to respond to messages and emails all the time.

It can be difficult to manage and respond to every message in your inbox when you’re overloaded  emails. You can mute your notifications during different times of the day. Personally, I don’t start a new task after 6 p.m. because that is sacred time for my family and myself. 

Avoid working or studying from your bedroom

Waking up 10 minutes before your first meeting or class and turning on your laptop can be tempting because you might have placed your device somewhere near your bed. However, you should avoid doing this.

According to the American College of Healthcare Science, studying in bed not only limits focus but it impacts our health. The author recommends using a chair and desk to study or work to be more productive and reduce distraction.

Set usage limits on your apps

According to research by California State University psychology professor Larry Rosen, author of The Distracted Mind, besides increasing anxiousness, the compulsion to check notifications and social media feeds interferes with people’s ability to focus. 

On the iPhone and many other smartphones, you can limit the time you spend on each app. By doing so, you can set boundaries with the amount of time you spend on your device and start spending time on the betterment of yourself offline.

In a CNBC article, Rosen notes that people check their phones as often as every 15 minutes even without notifications prompting them to do so. By setting usage limits and changing notification settings, you can decrease the temptation of constantly checking your phone.

Mute or hide posts/notifications from people who trigger you

If you cannot get off your phone for a legitimate reason and find some posts and people to be triggering, use the mute or hide post/notifications setting on the app to ensure you’re not shown content from people who may cause unwanted feelings.

With the holidays just around the corner, students can finally take a break from doing work on their devices. However, it’s still valuable to apply these healthy online habits as we get more free time to binge shows and scroll through social media. 

Be mindful of your screen time by allocating more time to offline activities, set boundaries with people you often interact with through your personal device, and have designated areas in your home where you work that is separated from where you can spend your free time. 

Hopefully, with these healthy online habits, you can spend more valuable time with your loved ones – offline – during the holiday season.