By now it’s no secret that most of us spend more time staring at screens than is good for us. Researchers have confirmed what most of us intuitively know — excessive tech use atrophies the brain’s frontal lobe and shrinks the outermost area of the brain, the region controlling how we process information. If that isn’t bad enough, the neurological changes can alter how we regulate emotion and pay attention, which negatively affects our social interactions.
Our team here at Stratus (all of whom are obsessed with tech toys and tools) are frequent users of technology. It’s a digital agency — it’s what we do. But we also cultivate the art of disconnecting. A (very unscientific) survey of our team showed most of us attain a state of non-digital bliss away from technology by doing something physically active like exercise or housework. Other favored remedies for tech overload were spending time with family, friends, and pets. Some preferred more extreme measures like “accidentally” losing their phone or turning off all notifications and leaving the country.
13.7% said it was difficult to stay offline for several days at a time.
About 12% reported often being online longer than they intended.
8.7% went so far as to conceal their internet use from loved ones.
Nearly 6% said their relationships deteriorated due to their internet use.
Modern social networking practices are changing our lives so radically there’s even a new social science to study this phenomenon called cyberpsychology. So for the health of your frontal lobes — and relationships and general well-being — it’s important to step back and disconnect periodically. Here are 4 ideas to help distance yourself from technology and gain a fresher, happier brain.
1) Schedule a digital detox
Recharge your overworked brain by taking time away from technology. A day-long detox is ideal. You can do any activity you want during your detox — the only rule is you must stay offline, away from your phone, and avoid all screens. If the urge to cheat is overwhelming, it’s helpful to physically remove yourself to a place where you can’t easily grab your phone or check your email. This may sound simple, but many people find it very difficult. If you can’t manage it without supervision, check out one of the organizations offering digital detox retreats!
2) Give yourself time to truly shut down every day
Limit cell phone and computer use during non-work hours. It’s tempting to make weekends and vacations mini-versions of the workday to get ahead of deadlines and answer a few emails, but unless there’s an emergency, don’t. If you have a gnawing sense of dread about not answering emails quickly, set an autoreply to let people know you’ll respond to their message within a set time frame.
3) Break away by going off the grid
Research shows that tech addictions are like other addictions — the same part of our brain that is stimulated by chemical substances lights up like fireworks every time you get a ‘Like’ on Facebook or a thumbs up on a post. Sometimes, the only way to break away is to literally remove yourself. There are still a few places where internet connections are sketchy, especially outdoors. Or find activities that you can’t do while you’re holding a device. It’s not impossible to run, hike, or swim without checking a digital device but it’s pretty darn difficult.
4) Be in the present
Do you check your device while talking to others? Stop. Learn to give your full attention to what you’re doing when you’re doing it. Staying in the present moment and keeping your mind on what’s happening in front of you is a core skill that can be learned through meditation. Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of the mindfulness-based stress reduction movement in the United States, says “Practice sharing the fullness of your being, your best self, your openness, above all, your presence.” Now, can you do that when you’re checking your email? I don’t think so.
We can’t turn back the clock — digital tools and toys are an integral part of life. But we can do ourselves a favor by getting away from technology for a little while, every day. Take a break! Make a pledge to turn the switches off and see how it improves your quality of life.
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