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May 2020: Digital Wellbeing and Mental Health during a Pandemic and Beyond

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This is the fifth of twelve EDUCAUSE Awareness Campaign blog posts featuring ready-made content designed to enhance security, privacy, and, for this month, mental health awareness. Use these tips and resources to help faculty, staff, and students attend to their digital wellbeing.

someone looking at both a smartwatch on their wrist and a smartphone in their other hand
Credit: My Life Graphic / Shutterstock.com © 2020

Campus Security Awareness Campaign 2020

This post is part of a larger campaign designed to support privacy, security, and IT professionals as they develop or enhance their security awareness plans. The campaign is brought to you by the Awareness and Training Community Group sponsored by the EDUCAUSE Higher Education Information Security Council (HEISC). View the other monthly blog posts with ready-made content on the security awareness resource page. 

In recognition of mental health month, and to help support higher education professionals during the COVID-19 pandemic, the May Campus Security Awareness Campaign post will discuss digital wellbeing. Mental Health Month has been observed during the month of May every year since 1949. While one in five people will experience a mental illness during their lifetime, everyone faces challenges that can impact their mental health.1 When health professionals, researchers, and device manufacturers talk about "digital wellbeing," they are referring to the use of technology to support mental and/or physical health in a measurable way.2 Digital wellbeing is often associated with minimizing screen use, reducing eye strain, becoming aware of the unforeseen mental health impacts of things like social media use, increasing the emphasis on physical activity and nutrition, and promoting better sleep patterns.

Because many of us are working from home and are not able to communicate in person with our coworkers or classmates, we are turning more and more to our mobile devices—the very things that many of us typically spend some amount of time trying to get away from.3

However, we are now using these electronic tools for what arguably might be their original purpose—to gather information easily. Some of us may also be using mobile devices to partake in some mindless gaming to take our minds off the current situation. Perhaps all of us are using social apps more and more to stay in touch with those we care about. Whatever we are doing with our mobile devices, even if it is staying away from them, it's not wrong. During a time like this, everyone should be doing whatever is necessary to keep some semblance of normalcy in their world.

As we continue to work (remotely) during the coronavirus pandemic, use the following messages, tools, and resources to help those in our communities who may be struggling.4

Get the Word Out

Newsletter or Website Content

  • Engage with Digital Tools
    There may be some things you cannot control in the short-term, but there are other things you can control. Actively engaging with digital tools can help you to take back control of your life. For example, you could take an online course after work or early in the morning. Mobile apps can help you create shopping lists, plan upcoming events, and even keep track of tasks you want to get done around the house (when you have a moment to spare). Actively schedule these types of activities on your calendar and make the appointments private. No one needs to know that you're going to exercise in the morning before work, call a relative during your lunch break, or do chores in the evening. Set aside time for passive use as well. It's okay to play a game on your mobile device while you watch the evening news.
  • Mental Health + Physical Health = Wellness
    Take advantage of mobile apps designed to help you maintain your health and wellness.
    • Sleep tracking apps can be used to record your dreams and log how many hours you're sleeping.
    • Dietary tracking apps can be used to plan meals, count calories, or remind you to hydrate.
    • Physical activity apps can remind you to get up and move or guide you through a specific activity such as yoga or cycling.
    • Mental health apps can help you relax and meditate, keep you on the road to recovery, or help you cope with anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, or other issues.
    Remember that your mental health is just as important as your physical health.5 While prioritizing daily exercise and meditation can be challenging, especially during the current pandemic, taking time for yourself each day is critical for your general wellbeing.
  • Social Distancing, Yes. Social Isolation, No.
    Sheltering in place and keeping your distance from others when outside are having a positive impact.6 Social isolation, on the other hand, may have a negative impact on mental and cardiovascular health. So take the opportunity to nurture the meaningful relationships you have in your life and reach out to others. Set aside time to send messages to old colleagues, friends, or distant relatives. If possible, set up a call with Google Duo, Zoom, or whatever medium is available. Set up a group chat with relatives, children, or classmates. Keep in mind that you may hear bad or sad news when reconnecting, so prepare to take the good news with the bad. Share positive news (perhaps how extracurricular online coursework is going), express gratitude, and offer virtual help in whatever way possible.
  • Mental Health America Wants to Help!
    Are you working hard to be positive or maintain a positive outlook right now? Do you want to figure out the best way to own your feelings? Do you need help dealing with or eliminating toxic influences in your life? Perhaps you just need help handling a mental health condition (yours or that of a loved one). Mental Health America has compiled a list of resources to help with these and other issues.
  • Your Concerns Are Valid
    There are many reasons why you might be feeling anxious or worried nowadays, especially during the pandemic. Know that all concerns are valid and that others share them too. It is important to pause, take a step back, and think about what you can control, realizing that focusing on these things can provide some comfort. For example, you can control your mind, body, and immediate environment, what you eat and digitally consume, and how you protect yourself and others.
  • Keep It Digital, But Keep It in Check
    You're home and on your devices more and more, but there are some things you can do to minimize your device usage.
    • Put away mobile devices while enjoying a meal with your family. (Unless, of course, you are enjoying a virtual family dinner.)
    • Stop using electronic devices at least thirty minutes before your usual bedtime. Keep your phone out of your room at night. Instead, charge it in a central location like a living room or kitchen.
    • If you have a blue light filter, turn it on in the evening or set the filter so it's always on.
    • Try to avoid electronic device use for a full weekend day. Did you make it through an entire day successfully? Try adding a second day!
    Things your devices can help with:
    • Recent versions of Android and iOS have built-in features which allow you to monitor your usage and sometimes even limit your usage. These features can be enabled (and disabled) at your discretion.
    • Google has released a series of Digital Wellbeing Experiments which allow you to do things like see how often you unlock your phone and minimize distractions.

Social Posts

  • Social distancing? Yes! Social isolation? No! Staying connected during times like these is more important than ever! Keep in touch with others through video or chat services. #mentalhealthawareness #tools2thrive
  • Actively use technology to plan for the short term and the long term. Don't be afraid to ask for help when needed. We're all trying to get through this together. #mentalhealthawareness #tools2thrive
  • Feeling overwhelmed or anxious? Visit mhascreening.org or text TalkWithUs to 66746 for help. #mentalhealthawareness #tools2thrive
  • Isolating at home and have an Android mobile device? Take a look at Google's Digital Wellbeing experiments for some new ways to relax or track your digital usage. https://experiments.withgoogle.com/collection/digitalwellbeing #digitalwellbeing #mentalhealthawareness #tools2thrive
  • Working from home? Don't forget to set time boundaries so you can attend to the things that require your attention. Turn the blue light filter on. Unplug at night at least 30 min. before bed. Charge your phone in a different room. #mentalhealthawareness #digitalwellbeing #tools2thrive
  • Your feelings are completely valid, whatever they are. Focus on the things that provide comfort and the things you can control. #mentalhealthawareness #tools2thrive

Email Signature

Ask staff to add a tip to their email signature block and link to your institution's mental health services (if they provide any) or point them to Mental Health America.

Example:

Jane or John Doe
Chief Privacy Officer
XYZ College or University

Attend to your mental health and digital wellbeing during the month of May. Learn more. [Link "Learn more" to your institution's privacy page or link to the Mental Health America page]

Embed or Share Videos

Digital Wellbeing: Understanding Your Tech Usage – Tech Talk (Women Techmakers)



Managing Stress and Anxiety in the Face of COVID-19: Mental Health Tips (Dartmouth-Hitchcock)



Resources

For more information about information security governance, compliance, data protection, and privacy programs, please visit the EDUCAUSE Review Security Matters blog as well as the Cybersecurity Program page. Access additional security and privacy awareness resources through the Awareness Campaigns page.

Notes

  1. "Learn About Mental Health," Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (website), page last reviewed on January 26, 2018.
  2. Margaret Rouse, "Digital Wellbeing," TechTarget (website), February 2019.
  3. Autum Molay and Ryan Williams, "In-Home Data Usage Increases During Coronavirus Pandemic," Comscore (blog), March 24, 2020.
  4. "Tools 2 Thrive," 2020 Mental Health Month Toolkit, Mental Health America (website), accessed April 29, 2020.
  5. Sandro Galea, "Mental Health Should Matter as Much as Physical Health," Psychology Today, March 25, 2019.
  6. David Hutton, "Coronavirus: Is Social Distancing Working?" University of Michigan News, March 30, 2020.

Brian R. Martinez is a Security Analyst at Michigan State University.

© 2020 Brian R. Martinez. The text of this work is licensed under a Creative Commons BY 4.0 International License.