As a teacher and teacher trainer, my life turned upside down under the pressures of Covid-19. I found myself spending most of my day sitting in front of my laptop, striving to pass on the kind of knowledge I used to do face-to-face. I would get messages from students and teacher colleagues in the afternoon and late in the evening and would feel obliged to respond as soon as I read them. I was cooking lunch, doing the washing up and all the rest during my breaks, while making sure my daughters are also “on task”, sitting in front of their devices following their teachers.
Are you experiencing digital burnout?
After a few weeks, my eyes started to get sore, I would get more and more easily irritated by minor things happening around me. It was getting more difficult to get out of bed and feel the morning start with the right kind of uplifting energy. The feeling of confinement and disconnection from people started to take over. All these feelings were a sign of digital burnout. As I have discovered after some research, these feelings may lead to a serious state of anxiety or even depression.
How can I get out of this? What is it that I do have control over, or I can regain control over? I asked myself. After some quiet, self-reflective occasions I came up with a few ideas for myself, and made a conscious effort to follow them trying to keep in mind the well-known Hungarian saying, which I personally relate to: “Help yourself and God will help you.” The kind of feedback I got from my family, my colleagues and my friends tell me that it has been a successful endeavour. If any of the above feelings resonate with you, here are some of the things I helped myself with and may work for you too.
1) Create a daily schedule
Create a daily schedule with the family and for yourself. Make sure you include the following things:
- Regular breaks between the online times.
- Small pleasures such as, making yourself a nice cup of tea or doing a quick 15-minute yoga or chi kung routine, instead of looking at Facebook posts or Instagram or anything online or involving a screen.
- Some kind of physical exercise.
- Silent moments to wind down excluding anything that involves a screen, such as video games or watching TV.
Top Tip – Involve your whole family in working out the daily schedule and get your children to make a poster out of it, something you can refer to during the day. Reflect on what has been achieved on a particular day with your family and at the end of the day, say, over dinner. These conversations may help you and others realize the control you have over your thinking, and things that happen to you or around you. Here are some reflective questions you can ask to help manage digital burnout:
- Did I/we have regular breaks? What did I do during the breaks?
- Did I do any physical exercise?
- What was the beauty I saw/experienced today?
- How do I feel now? Why do I feel in this way? What are some of the things that helped me feel this way? What are some of the things I can change?
2) Set boundaries
Be strict with yourself and your students about the times when you are online and ready to answer questions, offer support, etc. I told my students that I will not answer any questions after 5:00 p.m. Turning off the internet or mobile data services on your devices is a great way to protect yourself from digital burnout.
1) Redirect your focus
It is a great idea to redirect your attention from a virtual superficial surface, which is the digital world, to things through which your senses – touch, smell, taste, seeing, hearing – can be activated in other ways. Make this a conscious practise until the habit is formed. For example, in break times, water your plants, touch the leaves, examine every single change you can observe from one day to another. Or make yourself a special cup of tea with refined aroma, one that you love, say a nice cup of Tulsi chai, and enjoy every sip of it.
Top Tip: It is key that you focus only on the thing that you redirect your attention to and shut out any other impressions that may want to intrude.
2) Arts and movement
Make a conscious choice of creating beauty in the form of any art and movement every day. For example, drawing, painting, handcraft, something close to your heart. You can also dance at home on your own to the music of your choice, something that makes your cells excited or follow a 5-rhythm pattern, or if possible, join a dance club, and learn a new dance, such as argentine tango, which is what I did ?.
Top Tip – You do not have to be an expert in the arts. Use this as a means of connecting to something you find beautiful without having expectations towards yourself.
Self-love and joy
1) Start a diary
Build a friendship with yourself, through maintaining an inner dialogue answering self-discovery questions and writing about them in a beautiful paper diary with your favourite pen. Some of these questions may be: When I wake up in the morning how do I most want to feel? What do I need to let go of? etc. If you do an online search for “journaling questions for self-reflection” you will find a great number of guiding prompts and questions to build a better connection with yourself.
2) Connect with people
Instead of sending messages on digital devices phone your friends and family members every day and have quality connections with them. Communication through short messages is extremely limiting and shallow. Human voice and attention are given to the person you are speaking to add an extra dimension and quality to your connection. Hug your loved ones whenever you can. This is both physically and emotionally healing. It is well-known from research that hugs heal feelings of loneliness and isolation as well as build trust and a sense of safety.
3) Be of service to others
Be of service to others in whatever way it fits you. Find a good deed every day, a small act of kindness that you consciously look for and do without wanting anything in return. It can also be something bigger, such as volunteering. From time to time share these moments with your students, get them to come up with small acts of kindness they can offer to be of service to people around themselves, including listening to somebody with empathy. Encourage them to give something they possess, if not something material then their time and/or their attention to each other. Shifting the focus from “I” to “we” or “you” in this way is a great way to fill your life with joy.
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Erika Osváth, MEd in Maths, DTEFLA, is a freelance teacher, teacher trainer, materials writer and co-author of the European Language Award-winning 6-week eLearning programme for language exam preparation. Before becoming a freelance trainer in 2009, she worked for International House schools for 16 years in Eastern and Central Europe, where she worked as a YL co-ordinator, trainer on CELTA, LCCI,1-1, Business English, YL and VYL courses, and Director of Studies. She has extensive experience in teaching very young learners, young learners and teenagers.
Her main interests lie in these areas as well as making the best of technology in ELT. She regularly travels to different parts of Hungary and other parts of the world to teach demonstration lessons with local children, do workshops for teachers, and this is something she particularly enjoys doing as it allows her to delve into the human aspects of these experiences. Erika is co-author with Edmund Dudley of Mixed Ability Teaching (Into the Classroom series).