April 26, 2019

Taking a technology break can help your health

There’s little doubt the always-on nature of our world creates feelings of stress and dissatisfaction.

Look around a restaurant and chances are there are people spending more time on their phones than interacting with those around them. Watch parents at a park and many are scrolling through their social feeds while the kids play. Teens have even been known to converse via texts even though they’re sitting next to each other. That’s not to say smartphones aren’t beneficial. They are a great tool that keeps people more closely connected despite distances.

Need to make reservations or check a map – it’s all at a person’s fingertips. And yet, too much time on the devices really does have negative consequences.

Despite many people thinking they don’t have issues putting the phone down, the reality is that adults spend more time behind a screen these days than they do sleeping. And, while it may not be a surprise, the average teen spends at least nine hours a day using media or technology of some form and can check their social media accounts up to 100 times per day. Shilagh Mirgain, UW Health psychologist, comments that it easy to see why people feel overloaded with information and growing anxiety from being connected 24/7.

“According to some statistics, 269 billion emails are sent daily. There are approximately 455,000 Tweets per minute. Studies show Americans are increasingly checking their smartphones – 52 times per day at least, which is an increase of about 6 percent over the past year,” she said.

The benefits of taking a technology break

There’s little doubt taking a break from technology is beneficial. According to Mirgain, among the benefits are:

  • Closer relationships. Put the phone away when spending time with someone. Studies have shown that the presence of a phone, even if turned off, creates feelings of being less connected or listened to.

  • More productivity and increased focus. While many people think they can multitask, the reality is that it is a myth. Constant texts and emails disrupt focus and can lead to tasks taking longer.

  • Increased self-worth. Seeing the carefully curated images on social media can lead to feelings of inadequacy or missing out. It’s important to keep in mind that reality is very different than what may be pictured.

  • More mindful. It is easy to be distracted by trying to capture the right shot. Instead, just focus on the moment and the savor the experience.

  • Reduced stress. It’s easy to feel like work is never done when the email inbox is overflowing. Create boundaries by checking email at designated times – and definitely not first thing in the morning or on vacation.

  • Increased physical health. Too much time spent in front of a screen can mean less time being physically active. Get out and take a walk.

Tips to unplug

Mirgain admits that despite the benefits, it can be hard to unplug. But there are some simple steps to help:

  • When noticing the urge to check the phone, don’t. Emails and social updates will still be there.

  • Put away all devices and be more present. If necessary, keep the phones in a bag or drawer so there will be less temptation to use them.

  • Turn on “Do Not Disturb,” especially in meetings, or when facing a daunting task like writing a report or studying.

  • Power down technology at least once a day. Whether it is the last hour of work, an hour before bed or during dinner, keep the phone powered off and away.

  • Create a gadget-free zone. Research shows the importance of making the bedroom technology-free. If needed for music or alarms, switch the devices to airplane mode to help silence incoming notifications.

  • Have a “digital detox day.” At least once a year take a day or even a weekend and make it entirely free of phones, tablets, computers and even televisions.

“Technology has become so embedded in daily life it can be hard to imagine stepping away. But it’s important to establish boundaries and take control. When we do, it will benefit our mental and physical health in so many ways,” said Mirgain.