Covid-19 pandemic surges digital concerns globally

Since April 2020, a number of studies show a whopping increase in smartphone and digital use, leading to decreasing quality of mental health globally—for people and healthcare workers

R. Jayashree | May 6, 2021

In the bygone 2020, corona-lingos like lockdown, WFH, pandemic, quarantine, social-distancing, and many such crept into our daily vocabulary or ‘new normal’. Inside four walls of our homes, the entire world shifted online, to an extent where #zoomwedding became a thing. 

Zoom, in fact, became generically synonymous with video calls, as Xerox is for photocopy. Zoom-shirts became an essential in everyone’s wardrobe as lockdowns kept extending. It is that one shirt or top that you wear or keep handy so as to look presentable in online meetings with colleagues.

Meme fests like ‘Going to/Graduated from Zoom University’, as educational institutions shifted to online classes months on end, replying ‘Blursday’ when asked “What day is it?” as the passage of time during lockdowns felt unacceptably repetitive, filled our social media feeds.

Taking time off from social media is beneficial | Illustration Source: Marloes De Vries via Instagram

As early as April 2020, articles like How to Combat Zoom Fatigue emerged, indicating the rise of excessive digital intake.

According to DataReportal, there were 448.0 million social media users in India in January 2021, which has increased by 78 million (+21%) since January 2020.

Likewise, there were 1.10 billion mobile connections in India in January 2021, which had increased by 23 million (+2.1%) since January 2020.

On February 25, 2021, Union Minister of Electronics and Information Technology and Communications Ravi Shankar Prasad revealed that WhatsApp is the most used app in India.

According to a study by Dynata, India is one of the six countries included in the study which has maximum employees who don’t wish to work from home in the future.

A few covid-habits grew common across the globe since the pandemic began.

Doomscrolling—the blanket term for consuming bad news or information you know is detrimental to your mental health and wellness yet being unable to stop or control—”an apocalyptic nickname”.  

A former journalist at Quartz, Karen Ho, a.k.a. “Doomscrolling Reminder Lady popularized the term by tweeting out nightly reminders on Twitter to put the phone away and get to sleep, for eight months now.

Talking to Scientific American, she says, “A lot of doomscrolling is that feeling of lack of direction and helplessness. Doing something, having a series of steps for people to do, I find reduces their stress…this small thing you can do is go to sleep right now, instead of staying up late.

Stressed? Sleep on time.

The pandemic-induced stay-at-home order has tossed people’s schedules out of the window and along with that a good night’s sleep, creating a massive new population of chronic insomniacs.

Sleep disruption is a recognized feature of all anxiety disorders”, says a research.

According to the fourth annual study, Great Indian Sleep Scorecard (GISS) 2021, published by sleep and home solutions company Wakefit, there has been a 100% increase in the number of people going to bed before 10 pm since the 2020 survey.

However, as GISS 2021 shows, lifestyle and environmental factors, especially the challenges of working from home, can also prevent many people from following a healthy sleep routine and improving their quality of life.

Addiction to screens remains a lingering problem, with 92% saying they look at their devices before going to bed. One in three people in Bengaluru binge-watch shows into the wee hours, the same number of people in Chennai are hooked to social media way past their bedtime, while 42% people from Gurugram say work keeps them up till late every night—a 25% rise since last year. Mumbai has the largest number of late-night sleepers (43%), followed by Kolkata (38%).

“We have seen sleep being forsaken for a long time now and people increasingly succumbing to lifestyle pressures. The third edition of the survey sees a rise in addiction to digital devices and sleep being the first casualty of this trend,” Chaitanya Ramalingegowda, Co-founder and Director, Wakefit.co, said in a statement.

Checking social media before bed can keep us awake and affect sleep quality| Illustration Source: Marloes De Vries via Instagram

‘Covid-somnia’ is what physicians and researchers who specialise in sleep disorders call this surge in disrupted or reduced sleep associated with Covid-19.

Dr. V. R. Pattabhi Raman, Consultant in Interventional Pulmonology & Sleep Medicine at Royal Care hospital, Coimbatore, says, sleep patterns during Covid can be of two categories—“Covid positive patients and the general mass who developed anxiety and fear of the virus.”

Insomnia became common among people, as the lockdowns kept extending. As a part of treatments, sleep sedation was given to covid positive patients in order to make them sleep. “People tend to forget that the 98 per cent of the people infected recover, due to unavoidable media hype,” he says.

“If we stop discussing covid, we will naturally feel a lot better,” he adds.

He says that it is equally excruciating for the healthcare workers too. If any group of people who needs the most help, are healthcare workers, especially nurses.

“We (healthcare workers) usually have coping up mechanisms, but these are extraordinary times. No amount of training in med school prepared us for this. We are constantly anxious, overwhelmed, be it patients or family and friends, infected by the virus,” he says.

Talking on how to sleep well at nights, he says, “Cut down on your screen time 2 hours before you hit the sack. Make it a habit. I advise my patients to read books, listen to music, and offer to share my personal playlist of Ilayaraja songs. Nevertheless, stop consuming news after 8 pm.”

We Live in Zoom Now,” The Times declared in March 2020, and a year and two months later, we still are.

Zoom Fatigue—A study by Stanford University published in February 2021 reveals that “Zoom Exhaustion & Fatigue” leads to psychological effects on people.

People who have frequent and longer meetings tend to feel more fatigued than those with fewer and shorter meetings. Moreover, people who feel more fatigued after a video conference tend to have a more negative attitude towards it.

A number of studies conclude reasons to such fatigue like—sense of confinement to home, blurred work-life boundaries where one finds it difficult to detach from work, mentally, and lack of opportunities to socialize.

Participate in the study here: https://stanforduniversity.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_5w2JruIAQzOgiTI

The top 5 Global Wellness Trends in 2020 listed ‘Mental Wellness and Technology’ fourth. The World Health Organization (WHO) predicts that ​25 percent of the global population​ will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives.

However, mental health is still considered a taboo among the population, hence two-thirds of those suffering from a mental health condition never get access to proper treatment. Technology is evolving to change the narrative by providing “discreet, timely, and cost-effective care.”

via GIPHY

This is achieved by enabling virtual doctors, and personalised wellness experience. The target audience are especially the millennials who have grown up with smartphones, who will mostly prefer communicating through apps and real-time talks with mental health professionals.

The behavioural health software market is booming and is predicted to reach ​$2.31 billion within the next two years​.

Covid-Depression (or Covid Fatigue) is real. It is a collection of emotions including boredom, loneliness, sadness, frustration, anxiety, fear, anger, and resentment, all brought on by the loss of activities and social relations produced by the Covid-19 pandemic.

How can we beat this?

Sometimes, engage in Joyscrolling: it is continually “checking the news and social media feeds for stories that make you feel happy”; the opposite of doomscrolling.

To cope up mentally during these extraordinary times is challenging but essential | Made on Canva

Taking time to recharge, turning down emotionally taxing conversations, dedicating an hour or two to be device-free, will help increase our emotional energies and capacities.

When outside, keep social distancing and when it gets too much, keep social-media distancing.

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