Coping with online burnout

During the COVID-19 pandemic, online communication increased considerably. Apps, such as Skype, Zoom, FaceTime, and Cisco Webex were key in keeping the educational, economic, and health sectors alive and ongoing during the pandemic.

“Prolonged time facing screens, tablets, and smart devices increases stress and anxiety,” said lead author of the study Nour Mheidly. “Mental health stressors resulting from extensive online communication can add to other stressors related to quarantine time and lockdown to eventually lead to exhaustion and burnout.”

The study, published in Frontiers in Public Health, explores how the COVID-19 pandemic affected communication and education. In addition, practical steps that help relieve the mental health effects of prolonged online activity were offered.

The study summarizes how prolonged use of smartphones can lead to more depressive symptoms, anxiety and sleep disturbances among females, extroverted personalities, adolescents. In addition, physical health can be affected, as observing screens and hunching over smartphones for extended periods of time can lead to neck pain. “Specifically, bending the neck when using digital screens and smartphones may progressively lead to stresses on the cervical spine; a condition that is commonly known as ‘iHunch,'” said senior author of the study Jawad Fares, MD, Northwestern University. “It may also strain the ligaments, muscles, and tendons of the vertebral column,” Mohamad Y. Fares, a co-author of the study added.

During the COVID-19 outbreak, imposed lockdowns and compulsory quarantines increased levels of tension. “The inability to socialize, attend gatherings and interact with others enhanced separation anxiety, boredom, and suicidal thoughts, and as such, these emotions were reported more often,” Jawad Fares, MD added.

The authors provide eight recommendations to be adhered to during online sessions to decrease the risk of psychological distress and preserve health and wellbeing:

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