Has your mind ever felt drained after being on a computer for a long time? Do you ever feel stressed from trying to keep up with everyone’s busy lifestyles? Well, you might have your technology to blame, according to Dr. Larry Rosen, research psychologist and author of books like “The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World,” and Dr. Lisa Strohman, founder and CEO of the Technology Wellness Center.
Dr. Rosen told ENTITY that the actual term “technostress” might be a little dated; however, the issue of feeling stressed out from excess use of technology is still very real today. Because technology lets people be constantly “plugged in,” it’s hard to pull the plug from time to time. You tell yourself that it’s okay to work in the middle of the night or scroll down Instagram until you’re all “caught up.” And the burned out feeling you’re hit with afterward? That’s not healthy, no matter how much you brush it off.
So what do you do to avoid technology overuse – and the scary consequences that go along with it? Here are four points technology experts want you to know.
One of the best ways to combat a problem is to know when you’re having that problem. According to the American Bar Association, some warning signs of technostress include often sitting alone at a computer, constantly trying to multitask, feeling anxious if you haven’t checked your messages in a couple hours and feeling overwhelmed by your to-do list.
If this sounds like you, you aren’t alone in your technology troubles. “I would say that there are less people that don’t have some form of dependency than do,” says Dr. Strohman. “Research shows millennials often spend 18 hours a day connected to some kind of advice. Even kids in middle school spend, on average, 11 hours connected to some device.”
As harmless as technology may seem, this behavior can lead to some serious ramifications. Dr. Strohman points to research from Asia reporting that overuse of technology literally causes the brain’s white and gray matter to shrink. Not only that, but “from an emotional standpoint, we see an increase in aggression the more time you’re online and a reduction in empathy,” she says. “From a clinical standpoint, the more time you spend online, the less happy you are.”
Dr. Rosen says your anxiety over checking technology or social media can even “trick” your brain. “Those phantom pocket vibrations that happen to everyone comes from inside your head,” he explains. “You’re expecting an alert or notification, so if you get an itch, you think it’s your phone.”
Constantly checking your phone or computer for emails from work isn’t healthy, either – no matter how much your boss appreciates your 24/7 replies. You’ll never get a moment’s rest because your work and personal boundaries have blurred. Technostress also affects your friends and family because you are so focused on your phone or computer that you no longer pay attention to what’s happening around you.
So what really causes us to overuse technology? On the one hand, some of the triggers are, well, in your own brain. Dr. Rosen performed a study to see what causes people to use technology and any resulting negative effects. The research team found three main causes:
According to Dr. Rosen, “All three of those causes independently, and together, cause you to use technology and have problems,” like texting in the car because you “can’t wait” or checking Twitter instead of playing with your kids.
As Dr. Strohman points out, though, technology dependence is also promoted by “programmers [who] are paid, and use people like me as a psychologist, to create addictive programs and apps.” Apps often get revenue by selling the data they gather from their users – and the more people who continually use the app, the better their bottom line.
Basically? Many “free” apps really aren’t, just like all the time you spend on technology isn’t free of consequences.
So what can you do to break out of the cycle? The first step may be to follow NPR’s advice and stop “believ[ing] the multitasking hype.” Although technology has made it possible for people to do more tasks at the same time, research still shows that people don’t multitask very well.
And. before you argue that you’re always focused on one task, how often do you check your phone? Dr. Rosen did a study “where we had young adults put an app on their phone that monitored how many times they unlocked their phone each day and how long it remained unlocked. The average opened their phone 60 times a day, which is about every 15 minutes that they’re awake…and checked it for 3-4 minutes [at a time].” You may think nothing’s wrong with these short “breaks,” but they’re actually killing your attention span. “We need to learn how to pay attention or we’re going to damage our brain, our relationships, and our ability to manage information,” says Dr, Rosen.
Earl Miller, a neuroscientist and MIT professor, agrees, telling NPR: “Switching from task to task, you think you’re actually paying attention to everything around you at the same time. But you’re actually not.”
So, the next time you feel tempted to juggle tasks, remember that not everything needs to be done at once. Learn to prioritize and focus your attention on one task at a time. One of the best ways to do this is by studying your habits. For example, if you need to write a paper and you know you write best in the morning, write the paper in the morning when you’re alone instead of waiting until you’re around other people in the evening. This kind of prioritization helps you slow down your schedule, leaving you more relaxed and less stressed.
To help save your sanity and relationships, start by scheduling a daily time without technology. For example, tell yourself and everyone else around you that there are no phones, computers or anything technological allowed during meals. Put your phones away when you’re eating dinner with your family and friends and actually pay attention to the conversation.
Doing this will not only give your mind and your eyes a break, but it will also allow you to have more meaningful conversations with people. Not using technology during a meal is a good starting point because your hands are busy anyway. Once you get the hang of this and are willing to start letting go, schedule an hour or two hours of your day to completely unplug yourself. Take this time to read a book or do something else that doesn’t involve technology.
If you covet scrolling down Instagram while you enjoy your own Instagram-worthy meal, there are other small ways to reduce your tech dependence. With her eight-and-nine-year-old daughters, Dr. Strohman stresses that “balance is a key. If you spend an hour on a computer, spend an hour outside or playing basketball.” If you “only” check your phone when you hear alerts – which is probably relatively often – you can also follow Dr. Rosen’s advice to “stop responding to notifications and check your email/texts on a schedule.”
Both experts ENTITY interviewed believe that keeping your phone away from your bed or night routine is a must. “Don’t check your phone the first thing when you get up, or look at it the last thing at night. It dictates your day,” says Dr. Strohman. “If someone sent you two emails or you have a deadline, you immediately get shoved into that focus. You might want to get into bed and reflect, but technology skips over that.” Ditching your nightly phone habit cold also help you sleep better. According to Harvard Health Publications, the blue light from phones and other devices suppress melatonin, the hormone that influences circadian rhythms.
READ MORE: Technology to Help You Sleep Better at Night
So, turn off your phone and just take a break…or a snooze!
Once you’re ready, take a entire vacation from your busy, digital lifestyle. Don’t check your messages for the day(s), set automatic responses for your emails and go do something fun. You can rekindle your old interests such as playing instruments, reading or even knitting.
In fact, Dr. Strohman advises that children who’ve become dependent on technology (especially negative forms like online pornography) to undergo “digital disruption.” This entails completely cutting out technology for a few weeks or, if possible, 30 days. For less extreme digital detoxes, Dr. Strohman suggests that people “stop going on social media [and only] use tech to call people or engage in an academic/business purpose.” We’re creatures of habit – and breaking the habit of constantly being “plugged in” can be the first step to a healthier, happier life.
We get it. Because technology has become such a big part of everyone’s lifestyle, it can be difficult to turn it off. However, for the good of your mind and body, it’s important to learn how to take a break. Technology can be a good part of life; just don’t make it all of your life.
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