World Social Psychiatry

: 2020  |  Volume : 2  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 171--172

Digital Burnout: COVID-19 Lockdown Mediates Excessive Technology Use Stress

Manoj Kumar Sharma1, Nitin Anand2, Shikha Ahuja3, Pranjali Chakraborty Thakur1, Ishita Mondal2, Priya Singh1, Tavleen Kohli2, Sangeetha Venkateshan2,  
1 Department of Clinical Psychology, SHUT Clinic, National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences, Bengaluru, Karnataka, India
2 Department of Clinical Psychology, National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences, Bengaluru, Karnataka, India
3 Centre for Addiction Medicine, National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences, Bengaluru, Karnataka, India

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Manoj Kumar Sharma
Department of Clinical Psychology, SHUT Clinic, National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences, Bengaluru, Karnataka

How to cite this article:
Sharma MK, Anand N, Ahuja S, Thakur PC, Mondal I, Singh P, Kohli T, Venkateshan S. Digital Burnout: COVID-19 Lockdown Mediates Excessive Technology Use Stress.World Soc Psychiatry 2020;2:171-172

How to cite this URL:
Sharma MK, Anand N, Ahuja S, Thakur PC, Mondal I, Singh P, Kohli T, Venkateshan S. Digital Burnout: COVID-19 Lockdown Mediates Excessive Technology Use Stress. World Soc Psychiatry [serial online] 2020 [cited 2023 Jun 6 ];2:171-172
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Full Text

The world has witnessed a substantial increase in the internet consumption for the use of both work and leisure time activities since the nations globally started the implementation of COVID-19-related lockdown to minimize the risk of spread of SARS-CoV-2 which rapidly acquired a pandemic status. However, with the initiation of COVID-19-related lockdown, the global statistics indicate that people are spending increased time on digital activities. The time spent has increased by 57% for watching streaming web-series/shows, 47% for social media, 46% on messenger services, 39% on listening to streaming music services, 36% more time on mobile applications, 35% increased time for video games, 15% for creating and uploading videos, and 14% more time on listening to podcasts.[1] These findings corroborate with global statistics on the use of devices, which too indicate a significant increase in time spent on digital devices. The time spent has amplified by 76% for smartphone use, 45% for laptops, 32% for desktops, 22% for tablet devices, 34% for smart TV or streaming devices, 17% for gaming consoles, 11% for smart speakers, and 6.3% on smart watches.[1] Similar findings also have been reported from India with respect to increased spending of time on digital activities during the COVID-19-related lockdown.

In addition, the use of digital platforms which offer video-conferencing features for work, hobby classes, entertainment concerts, and social meetings have increased exponentially during the lockdown period. A research equated the excessive use of social media in the form of background listening, where the users keep getting bits of information, news, conversations, and chats as a backdrop throughout the day.[2] This along with other online activities for work and leisure create a cyber-based load in the form of perceived pressure to respond, participate in most chats, meetings, for the fear of missing out something or for getting information, updates, or videos about COVID-19 and with the exclusion of offline leisure activities. This phenomenon of background listening is also being associated with psychological distress.[3] The increased use of internet and smartphones for using social media, online gaming, viewing streaming web-series, watching movies over smartphone, and the perceived pressure to respond to incoming information has led more and more people to spend nearly all waking hours online during COVID-19 lockdown.

The phenomena of being permanently online also has contributed to digital stress which is being understood in terms of environmental demands which strains the coping mechanism of digital users in terms of communication overload through digital media, news, and social media, etc., and internet multitasking. This kind of stress is being related to negative psychological outcomes such as lack of satisfaction, decrease in productivity, exhaustion, and burn out.[4] Burnout is being included in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) as an occupational phenomenon rather than as a medical condition.[5]

It is, however, widely recognized and can be characterized as a syndrome with three dimensions related to work: exhaustion; negativism or cynicism, and reduced efficacy. Burn out can also be understood in terms of being always hyper connected through smartphones, laptops, and tablets, which leaves us susceptible to burnout that is exacerbated by digital overuse in the times of lockdown. The study carried out in Sweden also found the role of technology in burnout among librarians.[6] The relationship between burnout and portable devices can be attributed to the characteristic of hyper-connectivity and compulsive usage. This compulsive use may manifest as excessive use during the lockdown period which will further contribute to digital burn out. The tertiary specialty clinic for the management of issues related to technology use in India keeps getting online enquiries during COVID-19 lockdown period for the risk factors for developing addiction; methods to overcome the physical effects of excessive use; methods to achieve sleep hygiene; methods of cultivating leisure activities; issues of initiating conversation in family context; methods to manage free time, loneliness, stress, anxiety, boredom or methods of relaxation and inability to relax when an individual comes across negative information about COVID-19.

Due to COVID 19, there is an increased use of online modalities for academics, work, tele-consultation, online meetings as well as for leisure time activities. The demands (subjective or environmental) for permanently being online are being associated with the high levels of physiological activation, feelings of tension, perceived expectations, discomfort, and anxiety. It was being reported that even delays on phone or online meetings, shape our views of others negatively. If a delay of 1.2 s happens to the response being received over the digital meeting platforms, it makes people perceive the responder as less friendly or less focused. Even online meetings require more attention in comparison to face-to-face meetings as one needs to be attentive and focused throughout the meeting for verbal and non-verbal components from all individuals participating at the meeting.[7] All these factors contribute to the feelings of exhaustion in the form of digital burn out. These findings indicate that digital technology appears to be increasing challenges for the population in maintaining the balance between the time spent on online and offline activities. Digital hygiene may be the way forward in the form of taking frequent breaks from the screen use, structured hours for online office work, demarcated time for online leisure activities, engagement in indoor physical activities, secure time spent for offline communication with family members, stopping use of digital devices and use of online activities one hour before sleep time, and avoiding caffeine use to delay sleep time can be some of the ways to stay away from experiencing digital burnout. Implementation of digital hygiene activities has the potential to minimize the risk of developing digital burn out. This communication has highlighted the effects of excessive use of technology and the likely pathway to digital burn out. This report highlights that there is a need to explore experimental evidence of the mediating processes which make online digital technology beneficial versus detrimental to its users.


The authors would like to thank SATYAM DST, India, who awarded the grant to Dr. Manoj Kumar Sharma.

Financial support and sponsorship


Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.


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