Scenario Based Self Defence Training

Self-defence classes focus on protecting members from physical threats but in today’s world, we are as likely to encounter online threats. Despite their virtual nature, online harm can cause lasting mental, emotional and even physical damage. This article exposes some of those digital threats and provides advice on online self-defence.

We look at:

  • The growth of mobile devices and the effect they have had on physical and mental health
  • How lockdown, mobile devices and sedentary living have led to a potential health crisis
  • The insidious effects of toxic social media conversations and cyberbullying
  • How to deal with the trolls
  • How to stay healthy despite the risks
  • The critical role of group exercise in online self-defence

Mobile phones 

The growth of mobile phone technology over the past couple of decades has been a technological success story. In fact, it is highly likely that you are reading this article from your mobile phone right now.

Mobile devices, especially smartphones, have enabled us to keep in touch with friends and family, access news and information with the tap of a button and improve our lives with fun and useful apps.

Despite all this, there is a dark side to mobile technology. We need to be aware of the threats we face and how to defend ourselves from them. Among the most serious dangers are a lack of activity, leading to illness; mobile device addiction and exposure to harmful messages from cyberbullies and social media in general.

When we are absorbed in looking at our mobile phone screens, we are also missing out on rich information from the outside world. We can lack situational awareness and walk into dangerous situations. If we are constantly checking our devices for updates or responding to alerts, we can be easily distracted and are more likely to commit errors or have an accident.

COVID and the sedentary lifestyle

One of the biggest ironies about mobile devices is that the vast majority of people are not actually mobile when using them. Studies have shown that 81% of adults tend to sit down while operating their devices (1).

A study carried out in China (albeit on adolescents) also found a connection between sedentary behaviour and problematic smartphone use. In other words, those people who tended to sit down while using their phones were more likely to show signs of addiction to them.

Now, we already know that less active people are at greater risk of developing diseases and long-term health conditions such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease and even some cancers. We also know that people with such underlying health conditions are more at risk of becoming seriously ill with COVID.

The lockdown, therefore, created a perfect storm. Mobile phone use became more important than ever while, at the same time, it was becoming harder than ever to maintain WHO activity levels of 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week (2). This could easily lead to a vicious cycle of increased sitting, deeper device addiction and increasing health risks.

Fortunately, there is a ray of light. The same Chinese study we referenced earlier discovered that self-control mitigated the link between sitting down and mobile addiction. In other words, those students who had learned to control their behaviour could break the cycle. Disciplines that enhance self-control are likely to be very important in online self-defence.

Social media toxicity

The risk to the health of frequent exposure to social media should not be underestimated. It is again ironic that the platforms that are supposed to keep us connected and informed have led to widespread polarisation, social isolation, and fake news.

Heavy social media use has been linked to anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, loneliness, self-harm, and even suicidal ideation. One reason for this is the pressure to keep up with the social activity of our peers. Even though we know that avatars can be Photoshopped and people only post their most exciting news, it is common to experience a fear of missing out (FOMO) and to compare our bodies and lives unfavourably against others.

Getting likes, positive comments, and shares can also give us an addictive dopamine hit, making us ever more tied to our devices. In fact, a global study found that in 10 of 11 countries, mobile phone users felt tied to their devices (3).

The content of social media posts can also be rude and disrespectful and toxic messages on Twitter became more common during the lockdown as people looked to blame organizations and political leaders for the spread of the virus (4).


So far, we have talked about the general threats faced by all users of smartphones and social media platforms: sedentary living, mobile addiction, FOMO, toxic messages, etc.

However, some people become individually targeted online by cyberbullies. Cyberbullying is the use of digital technologies such as email, text, messenger apps, and chat rooms to deliberately upset, hurt or shame someone else.

Examples of content might include sensitive information about the victim, abusive messages, racist or sexist comments, or embarrassing pictures.

Cyberbullying sometimes happens alongside face-to-face bullying or it could take place purely online with the attacker hidden behind a fake identity. Cyberbullying can be particularly dangerous because attacks can be persistent, carried out 24/7/365, and permanent, leaving a digital footprint for others to see and share further. It can also be harder to detect and stop cyberbullying if the attacker is anonymous.

10% of teens report being bullied online (5) and while many bullies grow out of this behaviour, there are plenty of adults who like to hide in the shadows and hurt others.

Trolling: How to handle it

One particular type of cyberbully is the so-called ‘troll’. This is someone who deliberately leaves hurtful or offensive comments online, usually aimed at a person’s physical appearance.

Fortunately, there are online self-defence measures that people can take to shake off most trolls and opportunistic cyberbullies.

If the abuse is happening on a specific social media platform, the target should familiarise themselves with the inbuilt tools available to them. Most platforms offer the option to block or mute individual users while some have set up tools for more fine-tuned control (e.g. Instagram’s Restrict feature). Tweaking privacy settings can apply restrictions more globally.

For particularly nasty or persistent trolling, the option to anonymously report a post or a user is available on the most popular platforms. It can help to read the platform community guidelines so you can point out exactly where a troll has crossed the line.

Depending on the nature of the comments, you might decide to contact the Police to treat the abuse as a crime. Of course, if you have reason to believe that you or your family are in imminent danger, you should call 999.

How to stay healthy

To stay safe from a host of online threats, technology users should educate themselves as much as possible about the environment they are operating.

By improving their digital literacy, people can recognize malicious emails (phishing), dodgy websites, and insecure payment pages. They can set strong passwords to protect their accounts from being hacked and they will know which news and information sources they can trust.

They should also aim to strike a healthy balance between online and offline activity. This will avoid them being trapped in the vicious cycle of sedentary behaviour and ill health detailed earlier in the article.

Physical exercise has an important role to play as it is a way to get out of the sitting habit and break away from the lure of screen time. Step counters and health apps can help us to monitor and increase our daily activity levels.

The role of group exercise

While exercise is clearly a positive activity, it can be hard to maintain without social support. For those who find themselves giving up the health habit after a couple of months, getting together with like-minded people could be the solution.

Face-to-face socialization has been proven to boost mood more quickly and effectively than online-only interactions. The shared camaraderie can also lead to more staying power as people help to push and support each other when self-motivation is lacking.

Hooking up with people from online fitness communities, such as those found on Strava and Garmin Connect, is an option but the regularity of a local fitness group can be even better.


Mobile devices and social media platforms have transformed the way we interact with the world. They offer many benefits from information ‘on tap’ to social networking and helpful apps.

On the flip side, tech users need to protect themselves from a range of threats including addiction, lack of activity, toxic conversations, and cyberbullying.

Digital education and striking a healthy balance between online and offline activities will help people to defend themselves from physical, emotional, and mental harm

By improving their physical and mental resilience, people of all ages can withstand threats from wherever they arise – online or in the ‘real’ world.


  1. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.03032/full
  2. https://www.studyinternational.com/news/physical-education-now-important-ever-especially-kids/
  3. https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2019/03/07/majorities-say-mobile-phones-are-good-for-society-even-amid-concerns-about-their-impact-on-children
  4. https://reutersinstitute.politics.ox.ac.uk/volume-and-patterns-toxicity-social-media-conversations-during-covid-19-pandemic
  5. https://www.helpguide.org/articles/mental-health/social-media-and-mental-health.htm