Picture this: You’re on vacation on a warm tropical island, having some pre-dinner drinks at a balmy, breezy alfresco restaurant right on the beach, with the soft white sand under your feet. You gaze over the sparkling water as the sun begins to set in one of the most brilliant sunsets you’ve ever seen! Blazing streaks of red, orange, gold and purple stream through the rippling clouds and reflect off the water – it literally takes your breath away. Basking in the beauty of the moment, you turn around with a big grin to see if the diners at the next table are enjoying this extraordinary spectacle of nature as much as you are – but your smile fades as you notice that the family next to you – mum, dad and two teenage girls – are each hunched forward with their heads down completely transfixed by their individual iphones. You feel a pang of sadness, hoping that they glance up and see what they are missing…you go back to watching the sunset, every now and then casting furtive glances in their direction to see if they have looked up at all, and to your dismay, as the last little curve of sun sinks below the horizon – you realise they never even caught a glimpse of it – and the moment is now gone forever.
This is an experience I had while on holiday on the Gili Islands in Indonesia some years ago, and I did feel quite sad that they missed such an extraordinary sunset. I also felt sad as they continued to use their phones throughout the meal and barely looked at eachother, let alone spoke! They were on a family vacation, a time to unplug and reconnect with eachother and enjoy some quality time – but they had brought their respective virtual worlds with them, which left them completely cut off from the real world and the beauty of where they were.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my smartphone! It’s so useful for work, it has allowed me to travel and still stay connected both with my business and to my loved ones far away. But I think for most of us, (myself included), it’s getting a little out of hand…in fact it’s becoming a full-blown addiction!
Check out these (CRAZY!) facts for a start… According to a report in the British Telegraph
- The average person checks their phone 200 times a day – that’s once every six and a half minutes!
- 73% of Brits say they’d struggle to go a day without checking their phone or computer.
- One in four people spend more time online than they do asleep.
- 70% of 16-24-year-olds say they prefer texting to talking.
- The average teenager sends 3,400 electronic messages a month from their bed.
And according to Tanya Goodin, author of OFF: Your Digital Detox For a Better Life, we tap, swipe and click on our devices 2617 times per day.
There is even a recognized phobia now, called “nomophobia”, which is the fear of being without your phone! (Have you ever ducked out to go to the store or something and realized you have forgotten your phone? You feel kinda weird and bereft, right? At least, I have!)
It’s now widely recognized that our smartphones are genuinely addictive – every time we hear the bing of a new message the reward centres in our brain light up like a Christmas tree and release dopamine (the pleasure chemical) and just like a drug addict, we start to crave this effect and start checking our phone more and more, looking for the next hit. The negative effects of this addiction are not a joke…digitaldetox.org says it best:
“We live in an extraordinary time in human history…. We are more globally connected than ever before, but life in the digital age is far from ideal. The average American spends half their waking life staring at a screen. The negative psychological, social and cultural impact is real. Things need to change.”
8 WAYS DIGITAL DEVICES ARE DESTROYING YOUR HAPPINESS AND QUALITY OF LIFE
- They are a HUGE time-suck.
Let’s face the obvious, it we are spending up to half of our waking lives in front of a screen, we aren’t doing much living! All that time plugged in means less quality time with loved ones, less time outside in nature and less time engaging in hobbies that we are enjoy.
- They are REDUCING our productivity.
How often do you stop a task halfway through to “quickly” check your phone? Or if you’re feeling bored at work, you take a short 5 minute browse on FB…that turns into half an hour before you know it! This temptation to keep checking in with social media and to respond to texts and emails makes it really hard to focus on the job at hand. And the bite-sized snippets of cyber-information we are used to consuming quickly on the go is reducing our ability to concentrate in depth and for extended period of times. (For those of you who made it this far into this post, well done…let’s see if you can make it to the end! 🙂 )
- You are always ON and AVAILABLE.
It can feel great knowing that you have access to the whole world in the palm of your hand thanks to to your smartphone…but the downside is, it also means the whole world has access to you. You can be interrupted at any time, plus the formerly clear-cut boundaries between work and home life are becoming blurrier as we have access to work email, file sharing and in-the-cloud projects no matter where we are and no matter what time of day it is. This is causing a lot of stress for many people, as there is rarely a time of day when they are truly unplugged.
- They’re turning us into a culture of shallow NARCISSISTS.
Before your smart phone, did you ever come back from a holiday, print out 100 or so of your best photos, then not only mail them to your friends and family, but to virtually every acquaintance that you have ever met? Did you ever photograph a meal in a restaurant or your new manicure before you had a smartphone? Unlikely. Social media is causing us to focus so much on our own image and how we are perceived by other people, and also to compare ourselves to others and other’s lives. Often through social media we are crafting a trumped-up, air-brushed caricature of how wonderful our lives are, which leads to a lack of authenticity and humility – not to mention honest connection with others.
- They’re reducing our ability to RELATE to others.
While I really love the ability to stay connected with friends who live far away thanks to social media and Skype, our devices are getting in between our relationships in other ways. How often do you just text or instant message someone now instead of picking up the phone or meeting up in person for a real conversation? And when a real connection actually takes place, how often is it interrupted by someone checking their phone – or in the case of the family on holiday on the Gili islands – where the phone takes precedence over living, present people altogether? For kids who have been born into this way of life it gets even scarier – studies are showing that children are becoming less empathetic and less able to relate to other human beings.
- They can seriously mess with our SLEEP.
A couple of years ago my mum started getting chronic insomnia – for like a year. It was really bad and made her super stressed-out and also ended up affecting her health as the constant tiredness weakened her immune system and she got cold after cold during the winter. She tried so many things and it wasn’t until she told me she tries to read for an hour before bed (on her tablet) that I told her the blue light in tablets and smartphones can suppress melatonin – the hormone that regulates our sleep cycle and helps us get off to sleep. She tried reading paper books again and got an e-reader that was not back-lit, and her insomnia disappeared!
This effect from blue light is not to be underestimated, according to a study published in September 2015, the amount of caffeine in a double espresso has less of an effect on sleep schedule than bright-light exposure at night!
- They can increase the risk of DEPRESSION.
Melatonin is not just involved in regulating our sleep cycles, but also in regulating our mood – and suppressed melatonin means lower mood. A study from Northwestern University revealed that the more time people spend on their phones, the more likely they are to be depressed.
In fact, the average daily use for a depressed person was more than 3 times the daily use of someone who had better mental health.
Of course, as well as the harmful effect on melatonin, excessive phone and screen-time usually means less interaction with loved ones and less time for hobbies and exercise which can seriously exacerbate depression and anxiety.
- They can increase WEIGHT GAIN.
A pretty unexpected consequence of smart phone use is an increase in body fat! And not just because they encourage a more sedentary life, the blue light also interferes with hormones responsible for appetite suppression and can lead to over-eating.
THE BENEFITS OF A DIGITAL DETOX
Of course, we don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater and get rid of our devices altogether, but putting some healthy boundaries in place is a must if you want to improve your mental health and quality of life. Commonly known as a “digital detox”, it’s basically a period of time during which a person refrains from using electronic devices such as smartphones or computers, in order to reduce stress or focus on social interaction in the physical world.
Some people go “cold-turkey” and totally unplug for several days or more, which is great to do several times a year if possible, but I also recommend putting some more boundaries in place in your everyday life as well.
At it’s heart, reducing our screen-time is a step towards living a conscious, slower, more mindful lifestyle with less stress and anxiety and more time to enjoy the present moment and the people dear to us.
8 WAYS TO DIGI-DETOX
- Have an unplugged day or evening each week – including no TV. Make a list of all the hobbies you enjoy but “never get time for”, as well as friends you haven’t seen for a long time. During your unplugged time, engage in your hobby, some self-care or some real one on one time with someone you love. (For more information on taking a weekly self-care evening, check out this video)
- Have a ‘switch-off” time each day – for example all devices off by 8.30 or 9pm – this will do wonders to help you wind down and have a good night’s sleep. You could also have a “switch-on” time too… preferably as late in the morning as possible!
- Take a weekend away every now and then where you are completely out-of-range and preferably in nature. Camping is a great option.
- Go out sometimes and leave your phone at home. Savour the cappuccino at the coffee shop. Notice your surroundings when you are out and about. Take a few moments of mindful breathing when you are standing in line at the post office, instead of tapping away at your phone.
- Create device-free zones in your home. For example ban phones from the dining room and dinner table, or your bedroom.
- Use a real alarm clock instead of your phone – and start your day with a short morning ritual instead of jumping online straightaway. This could be a few minutes meditating, setting an intention or writing a gratitude list.
- Use a social media blocker when you are working on projects that require your full attention, or set them to run for your whole workday
Want to go deeper? Here are some apps and books to help you in your quest to break free from your digi-addiction:
Anti-Social – allows you to block social media sites from your browser within chosen timeframes
Rescue Time – Blocks social media and other distracting sites as well as tracks how much time you are spending on your computer and what your online habits are.
Moment – will tally up the amount of time you spend on your phone each day, and allows you to set daily limits for yourself – and notifies you if you go over them!
Freedom is an app you can use to put your phone back into “1995” mode – ie, it turns off cellular data, wifi and Bluetooth so that your phone is just…a phone again.
So now I’d love to hear from you – have you struggled with tech addiction? What 3 practical things from the list above are you excited to try out for yourself? Or if you have any other suggestions, please let us know in the comments below…
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