Get To Know How Your Device Affects Your Wellbeing
There is so much being written and discussed today about the impact of technology on our health and wellbeing. Many research studies have shown that our excessive technology use increases our risk of damaging our brains’ wiring, and imposes other health risks from our increased disconnection from the face-to-face interaction that our social and psychological systems need. Perhaps more alarming is the impact that technology use is having on our children and on their ability to empathize, connect and interact with others.
The fact is that technology is here to stay, but you can become more mindful of the impact that it is having on your health and wellbeing, and you can use that awareness to make healthier, more informed choices, and change unhealthy habits. Being more mindful of your technology use helps you become more self-aware and gain a better understanding of how you use technology and how it is serving, or not serving, you.
Here are ways to become more mindful of how you use technology. First, ask yourself these basic questions when using your device:
- How does being on my device make me feel?
- Is this a productive use of my time?
- How often am I on my phone or device throughout the day? (You can use an app called Moment to track your screen time. What you learn may surprise you!)
Once you start to be more aware of the impact technology is having on you with these basic questions, you can begin to make healthier choices about how you want to use it. Here are some other questions to ask yourself to become more mindful of the impact that the digital world is having on you.
Ask Yourself . . .
1. Why am I checking my device?
Sarah Rudell Beach of Left Brain Buddha offers great advice on how to be more mindful of your technology use by investigating what’s really going on when you check your phone. Before reaching for your phone, notice your urge to check it, then ask yourself:
Why am I checking my device?
Am I bored?
Am I procrastinating?
Am I checking for likes or a way to feel good?
Am I feeling stressed?
Am I uncomfortable?
Am I trying to escape being where I am or who I am with right now?
Once you become more mindful of your impulse to check your device, you can also become more aware of what you really need at that moment. Are you looking for connection, support or relaxation? Then, notice if your device is actually filling that need and think of other ways you can address your needs.
One common reason we turn to our phones is to avoid discomfort. Notice when you are bored, in an awkward social situation or dealing with unpleasant emotions. Notice your urge to avoid uncomfortable situations or feelings by turning to your phone. Try instead to give yourself the opportunity to sit with these feelings and deal with these situations, instead of avoiding them. Learning to deal with discomfort is a critical part of strengthening your inner resilience, increasing your creativity and improving your social skills.
2. How does being on my device really make me feel?
Sometimes we need our phones. We need directions. We need to make a phone call or check our calendar. Or, we just need a good laugh. But other times, we need to be more aware of how our digital life really makes us feel.
Try checking in with your body and become more mindful of your breath, heart rate, belly, neck, head, and shoulders during or after being on your device. Then, check in with your feelings while on your device:
· Do you feel accomplished and productive?
· Do you feel satisfied?
· Do you feel joyful?
· Do you feel sadness or disappointment because your life doesn't look like your friends' Facebook or Instagram feed?
· Do you feel more anxious because you just used up valuable time when your time could have been better spent doing something else?
Really notice how you feel during and after you’ve been on your device. This gives you tremendous insight and knowledge about the impact of technology on your day and on your wellbeing. And, it can help you make wiser choices about how you want to spend your time.
3. Am I multitasking?
Many people today complain that they feel stressed out, anxious and constantly distracted, with a persistent feeling of having too much to do and too little time to do it all in. Having access to people and information 24 hours a day / 7 days a week has created a sense that we can and should be doing something all the time. It also helps create a mental state of continuous partial attention. We are training our brains to be the opposite of mindful, we are training our brains to be unfocused and disconnected to what is actually happening right in front of us. As a result, when we want to feel calm, clear-headed and focused, or we want to sleep, we simply cannot get our brains to quiet down or turn off.
We often pride ourselves on being good multitaskers - getting it all done and doing it all at the same time. But recent research tells us is that cognitive multitasking doesn’t exist and our attempt to achieve it exacts a heavy toll on our memory, decision-making, stress level, and happiness. Next time you are multitasking, notice how you feel. Notice if you feel that you are doing any one task well. Notice if you are enjoying doing those tasks. Notice if you feel stressed trying to do more than one thing at the same time.
Instead, pick one thing and focus only on that. Do not answer texts, check your email or answer a call while doing it. Make this the time to focus solely on that one task and get it done. All of those other things will be waiting for you once you have completed that task. Notice how it feels to focus completely on doing one thing at a time without interruption.
4. Can I turn my phone off?
There is much debate and research about the addictive nature of our phones. Many studies have found that smartphone usage and social media are addictive. The design of this technology is not neutral. In fact, these were designed to capture your attention and hold it as long as possible. There is a real psychological reward intentionally embedded in the design of technology to elicit this feeling of reward when opening an email, and checking Facebook, Snapchat or Instagram. Our brains become conditioned to the anticipation of that next email or social media "like," our bodies release the feel-good hormone dopamine, and we become addicted to this feeling as we keep searching for more of it throughout our day.
Experiment with your phone usage. Notice if you feel an uncontrollable urge to check your device or a strong desire for that feel-good reward of one more “like.” Try turning off your phone for at least 30 minutes each day. Notice how that makes you feel. Notice when you hear an incoming text, email or call and how quickly you want to answer or check it. See if you can wait and simply stay focused instead on what you are currently doing. Notice how often your phone takes you out of the present moment and out of the world right in front of you.
More ways to unplug and be more mindful of your phone usage:
- Make a plan to turn off your phone for at least 30 minutes (if not more) every day. Immerse yourself in the world right in front of you. When you are walking, just walk. When you are eating, just eat. When you are talking to a friend or child, just be present for that person without being distracted by your phone.
- Turn off your notifications and make a plan to check your phone only at particular times during the day rather than all day long. Research shows that people who check their emails twice a day at a particular time each day are more productive, more efficient and less stressed
- Unsubscribe from all of those email lists. Clean out your inbox and eliminate all of those useless emails that take time to parse through each day and often lead you to some online search that eats up your time.
- Make mealtime phone-free time. Be with the people around you or simply enjoy your meal technology-free. Don't leave phones on the table or on your lap. Studies show that their mere presence at the table distracts people and signals to others that they are less important than whatever is on your phone. Be a mindful listener and connect with others during mealtime by putting all devices away and simply be present and attentive to those around you. This builds social skills, enhances focus and sends the important message to those at the table that they are important and worthy of your attention. For parents, be a role model, put your phone away and help your children learn the invaluable social skills of listening, connecting and communicating.
- Use your phone to help you be more mindful by using it’s notification tools to remind you to slow down, take a deep breath and be truly present in your body and in the moment. You can set your alarm to ring three times a day with a beautiful chime and each time it does, take three mindful breaths. When it rings, take a moment to look around and see what’s right in front of you. Find something pleasant and simply take the time to notice it. This reminder can help you lower your levels of stress and be more awake and alive for your life that is happening right now and right in front of you.