Have you ever:
Thought about throwing your cell phone in the river because it is stopping you from getting your work done?
Felt like you spend more time on social media than you do spending actual time with friends or family?
Find you are taking your screen into places that you should be getting personal time?
Said no to a doctors appointment that cost less than $50 but yes to buying a new phone that cost $500 even though the one you have works fine?
Answer yes to any of the above and
you might consider adopting a technology time-out lifestyle and re-adjust your relationship with screens.
Our current truth is that we live in a technology driven world. For some people screens occupy space in living rooms, kitchens, bedrooms, and now even bathrooms. People are carrying tablets, e-readers, and phones everywhere. And while all this technology can make life easier in many ways, it can consume time, money, and energy that could be used to build relationships, develop skills, and bolster our health. In fact, too much time at those screens can lead to health problems with long term effects.
1. Gray matter atrophy! Multiple studies have shown atrophy in gray matter areas of our brains in internet/gaming addiction1. This includes the important frontal lobe, which governs executive functions, such as, planning, prioritizing, organizing, and impulse control. Of particular concern is damage to an area known is the insula. The insula is involved in our ability to develop empathy and compassion for others as well as our ability to integrate physical signals with emotion. Aside
from the obvious link to violent behavior, these skills dictate the depth and quality of personal relationships. Wowza.
2. Other findings show that long-term internet usage can reduce numbers of dopamine receptors and transporters2. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that has it’s finger in just about everything we consider human. For instance, dopamine has a role in lust, love, infidelity, motivation, attention, femininity, learning, and addiction. It is also plays a role in memory especially long-term memory. Dopamine is the chemical that promotes feelings of pleasure, it makes us look forward to enjoying life and various activities. It is sometimes called “The Molecule of Happiness.” Dopamine tends to be the scientific explanation for why we can be happy or experience satisfaction. And new research suggests that this chemical messenger may play a role in depression, along with the other neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine. So if we decrease our numbers of receptors that pick up dopamine or reduce dopamine transports, we are changing our emotional stability and could lead us down the less than happy road, lessening our long term memory, and dampening our ability to experience pleasure.
3. Several studies have suggested that early screen use, children 0-3 years, are at greater risk for being overweight and that risk persists into later life3. Obesity at any age has many affects to our overall health and quality of life. Early life exposure to technology may then set the stage for increased metabolic diseases and physical pain and problems.
Today, unless you become a hermit, it is hard or near to impossible to give up technology entirely. Yet given how those technologies with screens can affect overall health, taking daily time-outs just might be a must to maintaining health and quality of life. Adapting a lifestyle that recognizes both the usefulness and detrimental effects of screen based technology is about understanding a healthy balance. Healthy balance is knowing when to put it away when it is not serving you.
We’ve got some tips to help you find that healthy balance and take back your control of your relationship with those screens.
Make Breakfast and Dinner a screen free zone. Eating is a time to relax and digest. It is also a great time to just bond with those who are actually close to you. Make digesting your food and bonding your priority instead. Your family and your digestive system will thank you.
Give your screens a bedtime. Screens can negatively affect your ability to sleep (Want to know about that? Check out another one of our articles) and get quality sleep. So set your screen bedtime for around an hour before your personal bedtime. Use that hour to clean up the kitchen, fold a bit of laundry, read a book, take a bath…relax and ready yourself for sleep.
Place a Limit on how often you check emails and social media. Do you really need to check your email eight times per day? Try for twice per day. Once in the morning and once in the afternoon. That gives you time to respond to those emails or messages that need attention right away without limiting your attention to other activities. It might be helpful to move your email and social media apps to the back page of your phone or tablet so you do not see the number of emails and notifications begging for your tap. If you are at a computer, unpin the tabs from your start up and browser screens and turn off the programs when it is not time to work with them. You can also check out these apps to see how they can help you modify your usage.
Quality Time - Track usage, set limits, and be in control of how you use your screen.
Space - This apps philosophy is to help you to take back control of your device so you can consciously connect.
You and Me time is no screen time. Playing with your kids? Out to dinner with friends? On Vacation? These are times to turn off the phone or tablet and focus on where you are at and who you are with. Be present. It can be tempting to post pictures or reviews in the moment, but phubbing (interacting with your screen more than those you are with in real-time) can leave your family and friends feeling less than loved? Resist the urge; there is always time to post that group photo later. Show yourself and those you are with how important they are by being present with them.
Professional Appointments without distraction. These appointments require your involvement and attention. Make sure turn off or put your devices on airplane mode to keep your focus where it needs to be. Health care professionals need to have your full participation and you and your doctor need to be able to communicate without interruption to make sure all the right things are being done for all the obvious reasons. Respect and love yourself enough to allow for this break. There is no call or text that cannot wait until the end of the appointment.
And while there are many actions our screens can help us do and learn, think about how much time you actually spend getting lost on your phone or tablet. There is so much you can get done and enjoyed when you use technology as a tool and then put it away! Whether it's exercising, relaxing, spending quality time with friends and family, volunteering, or learning something new there is so much more to life and relationships than checking out who is on twitter now. More screen time means less time for activities that are good for your health and well-being. The most important question to ask yourself is, “What is my screen time displacing right now?” Is it displacing sleep, playing with your kids or helping them with homework, time to explore the world around you, training and building health, or even just enjoying a moment of peace?
We hope these tips help you be better able to insert yourself in the world around you instead of on the phone in the palm of your hand. Be Well!
Kathi likes to spend her time using her screens to find great swing dancing all over the world, connecting with friends from far away, and to write about healthy habits. Better yet, she likes to put the screen down and dance with friends and build healthy relationships! Her favorite tech time-out tip is removing emails and social media off main pages and only looking at them a couple of times a day. So feel free to reach out, and understand that if you are emailing or messaging, she will get with you soon.
1. Zhou, Yan, Fu-Chun Lin, Ya-Song Du, Ling-di Qin, Zhi-Min Zhao, Jian-Rong Xu, and Hao Lei. “Gray Matter Abnormalities in Internet Addiction: A Voxel-Based Morphometry Study.” European Journal of Radiology 79, no. 1 (July 2011): 92–95. doi:10.1016/j.ejrad.2009.10.025.
2. Kim, Sang Hee, Sang-Hyun Baik, Chang Soo Park, Su Jin Kim, Sung Won Choi, and Sang Eun Kim. “Reduced Striatal Dopamine D2 Receptors in People with Internet Addiction.” Neuroreport 22, no. 8 (June 11, 2011): 407–411. doi:10.1097/WNR.0b013e328346e16e.
3. Lerner C , Barr R. Screen Sense: Setting the Record Straight; Research-Based Guidelines for Screen Use for Children Under 3 Years Old. Zero to Three 2014.