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Digitalization’s Exhausting Effect on College Students:

By Lillian Zagorites

In the last two years, phrases like Zoom burnout, screen exhaustion, and digital fatigue have littered headlines as millions of people worldwide struggled to adjust to life online during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The American Physiological association generally defines exhaustion as “a state of tiredness and diminished functioning… typically a normal, transient response to exertion, stress, boredom, or inadequate sleep but also may be unusually prolonged and indicative of disorder.” Digital fatigue, or burnout, occurs when one experiences physical or mental exhaustion due to any form of screentime.

While the lockdown may have been the first they heard of the phrase digital fatigue for students, many were already familiar with the experience. Clinician Marianne Specker has been working with students struggling with the symptoms of fatigue at the Counseling Center here at Merrimack for years.

“This exhaustion can be physical and mental, and it can impact a person’s health, wellbeing, and ability to be productive. Something else students may notice is a reduction in their social battery…they may feel more irritable or frustrated. Fatigue and tiredness can affect our ability just to handle the little stressors.” Ms. Specker explained.

“Yeah, I definitely do think that it has an effect on my mental health. I’m always looking at some piece of technology, and it hurts my brain a lot.” said one sophomore political science major here at Merrimack.

Dr. Melissa Zimdars, a Media Studies professor researching the effects of digitalization, discussed observing similar experiences in her classes. According to her informal research, young people are reporting experiencing both symptoms of fatigue and incredibly high overall media consumption at an alarming rate.

“We have gotten to the point where we fill all of our time with screens, and I think that’s what leads to exhaustion… When there’s so much, it’s overwhelming. There’s too much digital clutter is one way to think about it,” said Dr. Zimdars.

Clinician Marianne Specker also spoke on the state of constancy of incoming digital information and its overwhelming effects and how critical thinking while taking in digital information can help us avoid fatigue.

“Social media and 24/7 news media has become bottomless in nature, and it can make it difficult to disconnect when it is having a negative effect on one’s mental health. If we are noticing that when we are scrolling through TikTok or Instagram, and we’re not feeling great about ourselves, that’s a moment for us to check in and say maybe I should follow something else, maybe I need to take a break,” said Ms. Specker

“You know, ultimately, it’s just about being more mindful,” said Dr. Zimdars.

There are plenty of ways to practice mindful digital consumption and mindfulness generally in your life. Still, Marianne Specker was able to share some advice that she gives with students in the counseling center experiencing discomfort relating to digital fatigue.

“I always recommend students turn off notifications, so we’re not constantly bombarded… You can also build in breaks, take a month to stretch. Whether getting active and going on a walk, getting out in nature, or just doing thing we find enjoyable, relaxing, or even just taking a deep breath.” said Ms, Specker.

Healthy digital habits take time to build, but resources to help students struggling with the effects of digital fatigue are available here at Merrimack.

Those struggling with the mental toll of fatigue can receive help from the counseling center via appointment. Students can find more information on their webpage or visit their offices on the second floor of the Sakowich Campus Center.