The Struggle for Connection: Adapting to Life Online

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The virtual world is a vast one, and it’s one we’ve come to know, love, and grow comfortable with. Through the advent of social media and an increase in attention to our digital companions, we have created virtual realities for ourselves where we are free to showcase our lives and connect with others across the world. But what happens when technology becomes a requirement rather than a choice? 

While digitization has become the norm for receiving news, keeping up with loved ones, and engaging with entertainment, a complete adaptation to life online that constitutes quality time, work responsibilities, and learning is a new balance we are trying diligently to make “normal”. 

The recent outbreak of the Coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, has forced us to adjust our routines, seek alternative ways of connecting with ourselves and others, and sift through our priorities to find balance. A unique question is now upon us – have our increasingly common virtual realities prepared us for this new life completely online, or are we running from the acceptance of a socially distant world? 

This reality of ours may be temporary, but its effects are long-lasting as we ponder the implications of extended time apart from one another.

Troubleshooting Life Online

While technology has the capability of opening up metaphorical doors to positive social change and economic growth, it comes with a set of consequences. Since the rise of popular social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, combined with the sensationalism of smartphones and techy gadgets, health professionals and researchers alike have cautioned the use of technology given its negative implications on physical and emotional health.  

Frequent use of digital technology can cause disruptions in sleep, posture, and vision, as well as emotional consequences such as perceived or real social isolation, mental health disorders (e.g. anxiety and depression), and substance use. Paul Carvel once defined the Internet as “Absolute communication, absolute isolation”.

With healthy consideration of the risks associated with life online, we must begin to troubleshoot our individual processes – We ask ourselves “Does my vocational work require an online presence? Are there times when I can detach from my computer or phone for periods of time? What will happen if I create space between myself and my devices?” 

For many people, the risk of disconnecting from an online presence means missing out on updates from family and friends and consequently feeling more isolated, losing revenue if they are working virtually, or fear of feeling unimportant or forgotten about. 

The key to configuring a life worth living that inevitably involves a digital presence is remembering that online interaction cannot replace in-person interaction; we must decipher the differences between the two and heed warning

Managing Change by Creating Balance

As we contemplate what feels like our temporary “new normal” due to social distancing in the age of a pandemic, we notice the time and energy we dedicate to activities that seem so necessary – social media check-ins, frequency of watching the news, exercise or eating patterns, and communication with others. 

This global crisis we are all experiencing together is allowing us to seek out new tasks, recommit to taking care of ourselves, and admonishing habits that no longer serve us. Many of us might long for our old routines or behaviors, even some that were filled with mindless social media surfing, putting off exercise, or choosing the couch over the nature trail – but the question is, how much of our old routine will you choose to run back to? Or rather, are we using this moment as an opportunity to create and lead a life well lived? 

As we get closer to the stifling of this viral spread, let us hold the space and time where we invite creativity, deep breathing, disconnecting from devices and intentional conversation with those around us. The quality of our life resides in the moments we feel grounded, loved, and peaceful. 

Here are a few tips on how to seek your peace in an ever-increasing digital world:

  1. Take time off.

Think of your computer and your smartphone as your coworkers – useful for conversation and knowledge, fun to engage with, and also completely draining if you don’t take breaks to recharge. Yes while it’s true that “social distancing does not mean social isolation”, you still have a very real need to be alone, to recharge, and to tune in to what’s going on inside of you. 

  1. Clean your space.

A clean space is a happy space. Our emotions and mindset are influenced by our surroundings. Having a neat area to cultivate, create, and work allows us to feel clear-minded and motivated. At the same time, it should be said that you do not have to use this as an opportunity to re-organize your whole house or clean every nook and cranny. You may just want to focus on what feels manageable to you at this time. 

  1. Set boundaries.

Give yourself permission to say no to that extra task or obligation, or FaceTime date you were invited to. If your emotional or mental battery is drained, you are allowed to unplug. You may also need to consider setting boundaries with yourself during this time, only allowing for so much screen time, or hours passed by on the couch. There is value in giving yourself time to relax, however, we also want to ensure that we are not just giving in to the ‘easy’ choice and that we are still challenging our minds, bodies, and spirits. 

  1. Be intentional.

In a time where an online connection is crucial to financial, social, or emotional wellbeing, ask yourself what you are searching for when you engage with online content. Is there an opportunity to step back, to unplug, to set limits and boundaries? Ask yourself:

“Do I need to look at my phone right now, or do I just need to breathe?”

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