Nina Hersher has her Master of Social Work from Washington University in St. Louis with a specialized degree in Digital Culture and Program Development. Hersher views digital wellness as the intersection of technology and mental health amid beliefs that in this fledgling field, there is a collective, ethical responsibility to research it. She now runs Nourishing Habits™ LLC, and coaches on best practices in digital productivity and well-being for balanced living.
We recently got a chance to chat with her about why she founded Nourishing Habits, her work in the digital wellness space, and how she nurtures her own digital wellbeing.
Tells us about Nourishing Habits.
Nourishing Habits is a wellness coaching company that focuses on productivity and self-care related to technology with the idea that if we optimize our habits, we will have more free time to do what we love.
How did you end up in the digital wellness space instead of a more traditional health and wellness career?
I wanted my private practice to focus on how technology is reconceptualizing our norms of connectivity, which was my research area in graduate school.
Throughout childhood into adolescence, I loved to observe what was happening around me. I was raised as an only child and as a result, I spent a lot of time with adults and small groups and was intuitively aware of people’s connections. I saw technology beginning to have an impact on people’s presence with each other. When I went to college I looked for classes on socialization and tech, but at the time this didn’t exist. The closest thing I could find was a program speciality called, “Youth Culture.” So, I went to where the program was– abroad for a semester at the University of Edinburgh. The classes covered how the youth connected to one another focusing on social media. It was fascinating to me.
Since a certification in this exact area didn’t exist, it became clear to me that I would just have to go out of my way to find classes and trainings to create expertise in this area of rising relevance.
What initiatives have you taken to use the teachings and other training you’ve received?
In graduate school, I implemented a program with the undergrads called, “StressLess” at Wash U to focus primarily on the two areas; these areas align with my private practice work as well. The first is productivity and the second is self-care–the habits surrounding how we recharge. Because I’ve attended so many different trainings, what works really well for my clients is creating individualized plans that meets everyone where they are. People are fueled and fatigued by different things. One size does not fit all. It is key to meet them where they are to honor them and their needs as unique individuals. Then, we implement incremental nourishing habits™ for sustainable mental health surrounding our tech usage.
Is your method geared towards one-on-one sessions to better understand how your clients interact with technology?
I work with individuals, small groups, and hold corporate wellness workshop tailored to specific goals. I do love my one on one work because we get to do deeper personal change work more quickly as we examine their habits and interactions with tech.
In terms of general interactions with tech, my approach is definitively healthy, balanced tech vs anti-tech. With more and more work being remote, it is crucial to consider how many hours people have to be plugged in for their professions, and not to shame them for this. One of the takeaways here is to focus on morning and evening routines outside of work. We want to ensure that at the end of work days, people are engaging in practices that effectively ground and recharge them to combat overstimulation. Our first step towards this involves systematic introspection and examination of our existing routines.
How do we combat tech abuse and overuse — must we first acknowledge it and address it, then plan how we want to change?
From a mental health viewpoint, absolutely. People benefit from acknowledgement versus accusation of tech addiction. We examine the presenting problems and then work to move through them.
What are some tips and general practices for digital wellness, i.e. some everyday tips to better your relationship to technology?
We place a huge emphasis on creating a supportive environment. You can think of this as fengshui for digital wellbeing. This involves everything from placing your electronics outside of your room to create an intimate, phone-free space, to examining your AM and PM habits. in the evening. We’re focusing on the practices that help you recharge in the evening and those which will support you for the upcoming week. In mental health this concept of “sleep hygiene” refers to all sleep habits that result in optimal sleep. So a phrase we’ve been using is “technology hygiene” — the habits and practices surrounding tech that result in you feeling optimally energized and recharged without feeling overwhelmed. Everyone has different routines and different requirements for their jobs so we do a lot of honoring what individuals need and looking at what time it’s realistic to unplug and be present with yourself or whomever’s home.
You don’t tell your clients to go cold turkey. Instead you prescribe healthy engagement with technology, right?
Yes it is more about incremental change. Knowing that if people implement these new habits, they will be automatically drawn to unplugging even more and more attuned to how that makes them feel. The ultimate goal is to find your unique balance of healthy tech habits.
Is digital wellness a sustainable goal within the ubiquitous rise of technology or is it something to be put in place that goes against the grain?
I am working with the Digital Wellness Warriors, a collective that champions tech life balance and nurtures digital wellness. We are working two things: one being intentional tech usage and two being creating developing tools and tech that supports us.
To answer your question, I think that it’s something that won’t be against the grain, but I think it will be something we are going to have to be very conscious of as we enter a world where we are increasingly expected to be plugged in. So, teaching children and the youth is crucial because it is much harder to make changes when you’re older. I don’t see digital health as being separate from wellbeing. I see well being as an umbrella of habits and under that umbrella are our habits surrounding our usage and engagement with technology. As we place more of our attention towards this, it will become something that is automatically taught to all ages, just like exercise. However, I think it is unrealistic to be unplugged all the time. It is up to us to engage in model behavior for others. We are the ones who created our world, so it is up to us to change how we engage with it. That is our social responsibility.
Nina can be reached via email, firstname.lastname@example.org, if you have any questions or want to chat with her about Digital Wellness Warriors or Nourishing Habits. Nina is speaking at Tech Fest and holding multiple events to help you find your tech life balance for both you and your family. Find the information below.
Part 1) The Keynote/Educational Seminar
Part 2) How to Unplug: a Retreat Workshop to Learn to Unplug and Check-in
Kids and Parents:
Event: Digital Wellness for Children: Harmonize with Families, Friendships, and Education