How much time do you spend in front of screen on any given day? One hour, maybe two? Think again…
If you’re like the average American, you spend closer to 10 hours in front of a screen every single day?!
The number alone is pretty alarming, but what the studies are revealing about the short and long term effects of prolonged screen time is worse:
Prolonged times spent online and in front of screens changes the physical nature and the chemical operations of your brains. It affects your ability to make sense of the world, can lead to greater stress and irritation, and impairs your ability to connect in a healthy manner with others.
Got a minute? Check your phone. Whether it’s during your commute to and from work, in an elevator, in line at the grocery store or while on the toilet, the possibilities abound.
Many of us intrinsically know that our relationship with screens is unhealthy.
You don’t a specialist to point out how you feel compelled to check your phones, tablets and computers more often than is necessary. Or that you dread the idea of doing nothing, even for a short period of time.
Got a minute? Check your phone; during your commute to and from work, in an elevator, in line at the grocery store or while on the toilet, the possibilities abound.
It gets worse, because we don’t just do this when we’re alone, we do it with others. No more awkward moments at the dinner table, the blue light of our screens fills conversational void.
The compulsion is so strong that many of us are even willing to risk our lives and the lives of others in order to stay in the know.
Think I am exaggerating? Tell me you have never checked your phone while driving. Or walked down the sidewalk, or crossed a street with your nose buried in a device.
And it’s not just about being visually stimulated, when we can’t connect via video, we do so with audio. No more running, driving or walking in silence — music, the radio or our favorite podcast are there to keep us company.
If you hear the familiar chime of an incoming message or phone call, how long can you hold off before you feel the need to check it?
When you are out with friends or your family, is your phone within reach, or buried in a pocket or handbag? When is the last time you chose to leave your phone behind? We complain that we can’t escape the constant stimulation, but the truth is we seek it out. And it’s kind of hard not to, because your brain is designed to crave this stimulation.
Your brain craves novelty and stimulation, and when it get it, your brain releases a bit of dopamine. Dopamine is the neuro-chemical that makes you look forward to the things you crave, and has you feeling good when you get a hold of them. Dopamine is there to encourage you to seek out new experiences, rather than stay confined to what you know.
It’s crucial to our development and evolution as humans.
You’re brain may thrive on new experiences, but up until very recently, it at least had the opportunity to go in standby mode for hours at a time.
Prior to electricity, the setting of the sun would herald the quieting of the world. Even with electricity, until the latter half of the 20th century there were many daily opportunities to do nothing, stare into space, and fuel your need for stimulation through human interaction.
Then came television, a wonderful invention, for sure. With TV we could be entertained for hours at a time. In the early years, though even TV would take a rest, as the stations would stop broadcasting late at night (if you are in your 20’s go ask your older cousins or parents what happened on TV between the hours of 1 and 5am — nothing).
Our poor brains are like junkies in a pharmacy. The pull of instant gratification is too appealing — it’s just so easy to OD on media.
And then cable came along, and with it an unprecedented number of choices, and novelty. More TV, more entertainment, more screen time, more sound and sight pollution.
Finally, we entered the era of the internet and smart devices. It’s not just that we have access to information 24/7. It’s that we have access to a very diverse array of stimulus — videos, podcasts, blogs, social media, messages, emails and those crazy memes.
We can binge on a single source of stimulation, or we can multitask. Check email, listen to a show, download that document from work, update social media, while uploading our latest video of that cute cat; it can all be done at once.
Or kind of… Our devices can handle it, but again our brains cannot.
Multitasking is actually stressful. It leads to an increased the production of cortisol (stress hormone) as well as adrenaline (fight-or-flight hormone). It interferes with concentration and information processing, not only while it’s taking place, but after as well. Again like a junkie, our brain struggles to mono-task when the possibility of another hit (the ability to multitask) is in sight.
It might seem like you’re screwed, but you’re not, because much of this is a choice.
Technology is here to serve you, not the other way around.
Like a junkie with compelling biological reason, you have a predisposition to being addicted to stimulation and multi-tasking. Like a junkie, however, you also have a choice.
That choice is one set limits with your technology; put down your devices, set them on silent, or better yet turn them off for periods of time. Technology is here to serve you, not the other way around.
First of all, you are going to go through withdrawals. Your mind is going to fixate on the potential of missed information. It’s going to worry. You will feel restless, irritable, distracted because of that itch to check in.
Secondly, there is the problem that everyone around you is also a junkie, so they’re waving their smack in your face. They are a constant reminder of what you gave-up; to say you need a strong will is putting it mildly.
You have to ask yourself if you are okay with being a junkie. Does it work for you? Or do you miss making eye contact with your fellow humans?
I run a workshop called “Putting your brain in standby — the art of doing nothing”. It’s fascinating to watch people go through a timed five minutes of doing nothing (staring into space). Everyone starts off a bit anxious and restless. Then frustration sets in when they realize how hard it is to just sit still for a few minutes. Eventually, there is this wonderful moment where the body and the mind relax, but it is quickly eclipsed by renewed restlessness once the “goal” is achieved.
FACT: five minutes of sitting and doing nothing is a struggle for most people today.
Do you miss a meal time with friends where you don’t become intimate with the back of their phones? Does any part of you long to just attend an event, rather than capture it on video? Are you okay with the constant need to be stimulated? Or do you want to feel in control of the way you spend your time? Can you remember what it was like to read a whole book, or sit through a show without distraction? How about a walk without a set of buds in your ears?
If so I highly recommend putting your brain in standby mode at least once a day. Start with 30 seconds and build up from there.
Leave your phone behind. Tell you friends and family that it’s turned off after a certain time. Try driving without the radio on. Practice waiting in line and keeping that phone in your pocket. I swear there is a great big world out there that is waiting for you to interact with it, and not virtually.
I work on this on a daily basis with clients and patients using a 7-day process called the Art of Nothing you are more than welcome to try it out for free.
It just takes two minutes a day to practice slowing down, checking in and letting go. The benefits are huge, from reduced stress, to feeling more in control of yourself, emotional regulation (aka being able to tame your anxieties and fears) to a sense of peace and insight.
Two minutes a day, to sit with the most fascinating person you know — You!
You can sign up to get the week long email challenge (it costs nothing), or just set an alarm daily and sit first 2 minutes, then 4 minutes, then 6 minutes, and so on everyday for a week.
During that time try to just be- stare into space, look at the world around you. Notice your tension, your feelings and your thoughts. Don’t try to clear your mind or let your thoughts, pass — this isn’t a meditation exercise, it’s about disconnecting from the world to reconnect with yourself and allow your brain to engage in that very important standby mode.
I know I am a revolving door junkie, but’ I’m working on it. How about you? What’s your relationship with technology? Do you see it as a friend, a foe or neither? Comment!
Originally published at medium.com