Are you one of the many Australians who spend more time in front of screens than they do sleeping? Do you habitually whip out your mobile phone while you wait for a friend? When you here the “ping” of a text or email arriving in your inbox do you need to fight the urge to check it immediately? Do you find yourself checking your email or social media first thing in the morning and last thing at night? If this sounds familiar, you are not alone.
Australians are now spending more time in front of screens than they do sleeping. In a recent survey, Australians reported spending a whopping nine hours in front of computers, phones, TVs and tablets. Although technology brings with it a mountain of benefits, a growing body of research suggests that excessive use can have serious consequences for mental health, physical health, wellbeing and relationships. Technology overload can lead to an increased risk of depression, anxiety, stress and difficulties sleeping.
If you are wondering whether you might benefit from adapting the way you use technology, consider some of the suggestions outlined below.
Designate times to check your email and phone rather than responding to each email or text as it arrives. Consider turning-off notifications on your phone and computer. There is evidence to suggest that dopamine (the “feel-good” chemical) is released in our brain when we hear the sound of a text or email arriving. Over time this can leave us feeling addicted to the pleasure that we feel when we reach for our phone or open our email. The more we check the more we need to keep checking.
If your phone doubles as an alarm you’re probably someone who takes a peek at their phone (and maybe email, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and You Tube) first thing in the morning and last thing at night. Consider moving your phone out of the bedroom and investing in an old-fashion alarm clock. Or maybe you could bring back the clock-radio and wake up to your favourite radio station instead!
Set the tone for your day. When you first wake up do your mind and body a favour and delay checking your phone and email. Make the first thing you do nourishing and peaceful. Play around with what works for you; maybe going for a walk, reading the newspaper, meditating or brewing yourself a fresh pot of tea.
Set yourself a technology curfew at least one hour before you go to bed. Phones and computers produce blue light which disrupts your circadian rhythm (your body’s biological clock). Light of any kind is the enemy of sleep, but in a Harvard University study blue light in particular was found to be twice as disruptive to the sleep-wake cycle. Plus, all that texting and surfing the web keeps your brain fired up right at the time you are trying to wind down.
Notice the itch and see if you can resist the urge to scratch it. Try to be mindful of when you habitually pick up your phone or jump online. When you are waiting for someone in a café do you whip out your phone before you’ve even realised it? Do you browse the internet when you’re waiting in a line, sitting on a tram or stuck in traffic? Over time, like any behaviour that we repeat, checking can become a habit, an addiction even. Experiment with trying to catch yourself checking and be curious about what comes up for you. Perhaps the idea of doing nothing feels uncomfortable? Or maybe sitting on your own in a public place without your phone leaves you feeling self-conscious and exposed?
Connect with others the old-fashion way! Call me old fashioned, but it’s hard to compare the joy of receiving a card or letter in the post to opening an email. Even electricity bills seem more exciting when they are delivered in an envelope (although this is obviously not ideal for the environment!). As we move further and further away from face-to-face conversations and even telephone calls are those moments where we truly connect with others at risk of becoming extinct?
In an effort to keep alive the art of conversation alive at the dinner table this year the folks at Fone Free Feb are encouraging people to sign up to hosting a technology-free dinner party. If you’d like to kick start changing your relationship with technology and raise money for charity, visit their website for more details about how to get involved.