Personal Productivity

7 Signs of Digital Stress and How to Handle It

AUTHOR: Steph Davidson
Science Work & Life Advice Mental Health

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The world is becoming increasingly reliant on technology, digital platforms, and the internet. This growing reliance on technology has given rise to a concept known as ‘digital stress’. But this condition is nothing new.

The term was originally dubbed ‘techno-stress’ in the 1980s and 1990s. It was first coined in 1986 by Brod, who defined this form of stress as a modern disease of adaptation that causes an inability to cope with new technologies in healthy ways. More recently, studies have expanded the term to other facets of modern digital life, including the use of social media platforms and smartphones.

Digital stress has been extensively studied, as has the impacts of digital interactions in adolescents and adults. More research is required in adult and professional demographics. But it’s a well-known fact that stress is becoming a growing concern on a global scale. Especially because of its negative impacts on productivity. Many studies have also documented correlations between prolonged periods of screen time and reduced physical activity, depression, obesity, and stress.

7 Signs of Digital Stress

1: Withdrawal and Isolation

Digital stress may prompt people to withdraw from their usual social activities and isolate themselves from friends, family members, and colleagues. This can compound the effects of digital stress, as social withdrawal may lead to further anxiety and even depression in certain instances. In turn, this can impact your productivity at work and at home.

2: Secrecy

People who find themselves struggling to cope with digital stress may attempt to hide their challenges from those close to them. This is true for individuals experiencing cyber-bullying and online abuse.


FOMO, or ‘fear of missing out’ is a feeling of anxiety people experience when they feel they’re missing out on thrilling experiences, or that others are leading more interesting lives.

This phenomenon is largely caused by social media exposure. Many people compare the mundane aspects of their everyday lives to the curated and filtered highlights their friends post on social media channels. These comparisons can lead to feelings of hopelessness and inferiority and negatively impact productivity.

4: The Goldfish Effect

People who rely on smartphones and digital technologies for their entertainment and information sources may feel themselves becoming more fatigued and forgetful. Some studies have found that humans’ abilities to concentrate for prolonged time periods is being diminished, and digital technologies shorten our attention spans.

This effect may lead to issues with learning and memory, which can increase your susceptibility to stress and anxiety.

5: Depression

A combination of FOMO, exposure to vast amounts of digital stimuli, and stresses stemming from fake news, cybersecurity and online bullying can cause ongoing anxiety and stress, which may eventually lead to the development of depression.

When people experience depression and low productivity with no obvious causes, it is possible that they are suffering from prolonged digital stress.

6: Headaches, Stomach Aches, and Other Unexplained Symptoms

Many people experiencing digital stress experience ongoing headaches, stomachaches, general body aches and other symptoms that cannot be explained by an existing medical condition. Some of these symptoms may be symptoms of depression.

7: Anxiety and Panic Attacks

Individuals who experience digital stress may experience anxiety and panic attacks as symptoms of this modern condition. This anxiety may be exacerbated by using digital platforms and technologies for longer periods of time, and often abates when screen time is limited or halted altogether.

How to Handle Digital Stress

If you’re feeling tired, fatigued, or overwhelmed regularly, use these tips to handle digital stress more effectively.

Draw Boundaries at Work

A survey from Toluna and Vtech has found that being constantly accessible for work purposes is a primary source of digital stress. It can be tempting to be constantly available to check emails, answer phone calls and work remotely. However, it’s essential to switch off from your work stress and take some time for yourself to protect your mental health.

Draw boundaries at work, especially if you work remotely. Inform your colleagues that you will only be available during certain hours, and turn your phone off after hours. Take time to do the things you enjoy, and make time for relaxation. If you must check messages outside of working hours, set specific intervals for this and switch your phone back off once you have completed your obligations. It may be helpful to use proven methodologies like our stress-free productivity system to enhance your personal productivity without sacrificing personal time.

Have More Face-to-Face Discussions

One major issue with communicating digitally is that it can be challenging to detect tone and meaning in the same way when speaking to someone in person. This can easily give rise to conflicts and misunderstandings, and waiting for replies can cause ongoing stress and anxiety.

Have important conversations with people in person if possible, and use emails and texts as a way to arrange meetings rather than to communicate essential information.

Choose Your Contacts Carefully

Being flooded with messages and social media updates from people who cause you stress can easily overwhelm you. Be selective about who you choose to communicate with online and when you do so. Remember that you’re not obligated to hand over your personal information and contact details or accept friend requests if you are not comfortable doing so.

Consider a Digital Detox

Many of us spend hours upon hours each day messaging, emailing, using social media, and browsing the internet. While these services have a valuable role to play in our lives, they can cause us to miss out on everyday sources of enjoyment, such as in-person conversations and walks in nature.

Digital detoxes help to reduce digital stress in your life by making more time for worthwhile and enjoyable activities. Spend an afternoon, a day, or even a week without using technology and explore the real world instead. Go outside, take in the view, enjoy a hike with friends or read a book—it’s up to you. Once you’re back at your desk, you may well enjoy better productivity and lower stress levels.

Avoid Using Technology Before Bed

Using technology directly before bed can affect your mood and disrupt your circadian rhythms. This can lead to increased stress, anxiety and even depression in the long run, and has the potential to weaken your immune system over time. Put away all of your devices at least an hour before bedtime to improve your quality of sleep and your mood, which will in turn boost your productivity the next day.

The Bottom Line

Digital stress is largely unavoidable in today’s world. But there are many actions you can take to identify this stress when it occurs and to address it before it impacts your mental and physical health.

Use the tips mentioned above to handle digital stress more effectively and lead a healthier, more productive, connected life.

Steph Davidson

Steph is a content manager with over ten years of experience in writing, editing, blog development, SEO, marketing, and media relations. Steph lives in Toronto and can be found drinking tea and watching horror movies when she’s not working with words.

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