Words: Ashley Johnson
Photo: Morsa Images
We have reached a critical point in civilization unlike any other. Our society is consumed by digital technology – at work, at home, at school – even pets have access to dedicated channels on TV.
The average adult checks their smartphone 63 times a day. On average, adults spend more than 11 hours a day connected to some form of media. In 2020 it was reported that we had access to more than 600,000 different movies or TV programs. And the first thing the majority of our population does on waking up is to check our phones for news, email, messages, and social media.
As devices increasingly become smarter and smaller, they also become a more prevalent part of our lives, quite often to our demise. More than ever we sit, relax, connect, communicate, and immerse ourselves in front of or part of some type of digital technology.
This infusion of IT can overload our brains and bodies. Devoting too much time, energy, and attention to devices can lead to severe repercussions for our health, negatively impact performance at work, and increase the likelihood of depression and anxiety.
With anything, there needs to be a balance. Overwhelming evidence indicates that the amount of time we spend on technology far outweighs the time we take to unplug and unwind.
So how do we bring about this balance and regain control of our minds and bodies?
Baby steps ultimately lead to longer strides and a steady pace. The same can be said about our adoption and fascination with digital technology. Understanding when and why we devote our time and attention to a device is the first step in curbing and reducing our dependence on it.
Quite often we divert our attention to devices as a way to avoid dealing with reality. When we play a game on our phone, check for email or text messages, binge watch Netflix or Hulu, or engage in some other digital distraction, a small amount of dopamine is released from our brain. This makes us happy, temporarily.
Over time these temporary stretches of stress relief can cause reliance or dependence on devices, making it more difficult to put down or curtail activity. And this can lead to depression and anxiety. An increase of dependence on anything can lead to a lack of control, unhappiness, and inadequacy.
Knowing our triggers, when we frequently reach for devices, or how often we do so can help scale back our usage and manage our activities.
To avoid checking your phone the moment you wake up, try using a traditional alarm clock or placing your device out of reach. The ideal solution is option is to wake up naturally. Some alarm clocks now available wake you up with light and nature sounds or gentle music over a jarring alarm.
If you can’t go one hour without checking your phone, email, computer, smart watch, or something else, then use that as a base line. Ask yourself whether a distraction is augmenting your mind, body, family life, or career. If that answer is no, then that is an indication to forego the distraction.
Most devices now offer screen time settings or controls for digital wellbeing. These settings allow parents to control how much time children spend on a device. They also allow tracking of screen time so you can unplug more easily.
By monitoring usage on devices, it’s possible to see and understand what apps or programs take away attention and focus. If there is a game or program that accounts for an overwhelming percentage of time, then perhaps it’s best to set a timer, limit its use, or delete it altogether.
When we recognize a need to distance ourselves from devices, it’s important to stand firm and be consistent. On average it takes about two months to form a new habit that then becomes automatic.
Fixating on devices can lead to a number of emotional and physical ailments. According to the American Optometric Association, a good rule of thumb to reduce eye strain is to follow the 20-20-20 rule.
After 20 minutes of working or looking at a device, it’s advised to take a break for at least 20 seconds a minimum of 20 feet from that device. This can also help to refocus attention, give us time to stretch and move around.
The Pomodoro Technique is a time management method to improve focus and productivity by working straight on only one task for 25 minute intervals. At the end of each 25-minute interval, a break of three to five minutes is taken. After four intervals, a longer break is taken of about 15 to 30 minutes, and then the sequence starts again.
Eye strain often is caused by the blue light that devices emit. This can lead to headaches, watering eyes, dry or red eyes. Most eyeglasses now offer a lens adaptation to filter out this blue light. There also are glasses that exist solely to filter out this blue light. Most smartphones now have a setting to activate a blue light filter.
Refocus your attention
If you are spending too much time on your devices, creating challenges in other areas of your life, then perhaps a deeper issue needs to be addressed. Sometimes speaking with someone can help you manage stress, whether that is a psychologist, business coach, life coach, or someone else. Very often these professionals can help with time management, wellness, mindful strategies designed to refocus our attention, productivity, and setting manageable goals.
Sometimes the best way to distance ourselves from devices is exactly that. Going outside for a walk, hike, bike ride, mountain climb, or kayak does wonders for the mind. There is a multitude of websites and resources to find the perfect activity. One application called AllTrails lets users filter by type of activity, trail length, elevation gain, rating, and attraction. Another application that lets you find and track your activities is Gaia GPS.
If you prefer to go in a group, there are hundreds of local and national activity groups on Facebook and Meetup. This is a great way to connect with people who enjoy the things you do as well, but outside the digital realm. Another resource is to check your city’s website for events and ways to get involved.
As a result of Covid, society has begun to realize the importance and value that an experience can provide. Our communities are beginning to realize the detrimental impact of digital devices. These devices might entertain and provide short-time satisfaction, but they provide little, true long-term value,
The first step is always the hardest. But detoxing from your devices will ultimately reconnect you with who and what is most important in your life, making sure you are more productive and remain healthy, both in body and in mind.