We are living in times when there is no dearth of distressing news. A war is raging. For over two years now the coronavirus pandemic continues to test our resilience. And yesterday, I read a report about how record rise in temperature at both of Earth’s poles could be catastrophic for all living things. The influx of bad news doesn’t cease, but our capacity to consume and process it has a certain threshold. After we cross that limit, it becomes overwhelming. Earlier, switching off the television news or folding up the newspaper brought temporary respite from these stressors. However, now, being constantly plugged in through devices we carry on ourselves, wherever we go, we cannot get away from troubling news.
The relentless use of devices also messes with our overall health, beginning with disrupting our natural sleep cycle. According to Harvard researchers the environmentally friendly blue wavelengths from the screen of phones, computers and tablets known to boost mood and attention, along with being easy on the eyes, can adversely affect sleep by disrupting the circadian rhythm or the human’s biological clock. Prolonged use of devices have long been associated with problems related to vision, neck pain and overall well being.
Social media is another area which is testing human sanity. Although an integral part of our daily existence, research shows negative social medial experience can affect our mental health. An annual survey to assess stress levels in their population by the American Psychological Association found 18 percent adults citing tech stress to be a major reason for their stress, with use of social media and constant checking of texts and emails being the problem. Also multiple studies have established that spending hours scrolling through content that is provocative and upsetting, makes one feel anguished, depressed and drained. The only viable way then to clear the mind is by taking a break from these devices or a digital detox!
While it might sound like a cool thing to go on a ‘digital detox,’ and there are studies that show a break from devices have multiple health benefits, it still needs to be planned. Be realistic when setting your target of how long to abstain from devices. For some, complete disconnection might be possible, but you might need to stay connected for work commitments. In that case, missing important messages and emails might lead to more stress than respite. But there’s a way around this too. Start by going off your device for a few hours, the evening, a day or weekend. Exempt checking work-related emails from the plan. Delete social media apps to avoid getting tempted when you take up your phone for work purposes. This also helps to reinforce the fact that a short break from these apps will not kill you and gives you confidence to take longer breaks in the future.
Catherine Price, author of the book titled How to Break Up with Your Phone : The 30-Day Plan to Take Back Your Life, in an article published by Good Housekeeping believes that staying plugged in isn’t a problem until it begins to have a negative impact on your mental wellness, creativity and productivity and hampers activities that add up to your overall happiness. She goes on to suggest that an evaluation of your social media habits will point you to where the problem lies. It’s a great way to determine whether your screen time is cutting into valuable time you would otherwise spend on hobbies or socialising in the real world. Or if loneliness makes you reach for the phone to seek out virtual company. And if you’re guilty of checking your phone mid-conversations. Along with taking a break from your device, you might need to correct other aspects of your life as well.
Limiting the use of devices is another way to take brief breaks and refresh the mind. To limit your use of screen time, pinpoint the apps that you find that take up most of your time and delete or avoid it. Set your phone aside when you eat meals, socialise and spend time with family. Turn off options of push notifications and message alerts. Next time you find yourself reaching for a device to fill your spare time, imagine you’re living in an era when these devices were not available and go back to doing exciting things that people did in times of yore. Learn to entertain yourself by taking up a hobby, cooking a meal, doing physical exercise or spending that time with family. When you feel the need to connect with people, go outside and socialise. If you still find it a challenge to keep your hands off your devices, rope in a friend or family members to join you.
Another effective way to cut out the stress of your social media is by improving your virtual interactions and customising your feed. Curate your social media content to not only eliminate stress, but to help you get more value out of your experience. We often forget that we choose what appears on our timeline and who we connect with. Make the most of filters, block and other options available. Cut down the content that triggers you. Mute or block accounts that make you question your life choices or lead to you being dissatisfied with yourself. Stop interacting with people who are insensitive and lack empathy. Don’t respond to provocative messages and steer far from trolls. Instead of using it as a platform to debate with people, ensure your use of social media is purposeful like for promoting your brand or business and for networking.
Remember, the purpose of technology and devices is to make our life easier and not add to our problems. Let’s keep it that way!