Medically reviewed by Susan Kerrigan, MD and Marianne Madsen, University of Utah
Think carefully about the last time you set out to relax. How did you do it? Was it by taking a stroll in the park? Reading a book? Meditating? Nowadays, the chances are you probably tried to relax by using some form of technology. Most of us are all-too familiar with the following scenarios: sitting on the couch binge watching yet another episode of your favorite show, waiting at the doctor’s office scrolling through your phone, lying in bed on your laptop, going through a few emails….
Many of us are convinced that we can only truly relax while we are using some form of technology. But in fact, studies have shown that the over abundance of technology in our lives can be the cause of stress itself. Dr. Gini Harrison and Dr. Mathjis Lucassen have discovered what many of us have long suspected–that the constant availability of technology such as smartphones and tablets have potentially turned it into an addiction. If you are questioning this, consider the scenario: you find yourself halfway to work and realize you left your cellphone at home. How would that make you feel? Would you be able to continue on comfortably, knowing that the world will still spin without your phone, or would you have to go back and get it, potentially causing you to be late? For many of us–even if we weren’t expecting an important phone call–the answer would be the latter.
The American Psychological Association dubs the folks who engage in technology usage in an addictive manner “constant checkers.” No matter where they are, they are constantly checking their phone, scrolling through social media, checking the news, their mail, or even playing a game. Waiting in a line? Fiddling with their phone. Out to dinner with their significant other? Watching their phone. In bed and trying to go to sleep? You got it, still on their phone trying to convince themselves that they’re relaxing.
For people like this, the mere act of checking their phones can cause stress levels to rise. The 24/7 availability of social media networks means that we are now always able to compare our own lives to that of our peers, often with negative emotional consequences. Previous generations had to wait until the morning paper arrived or the daily news broadcast to catch up with what was going on in the world. With the internet, you can both instantly find out what tragedy happened in whatever part of the world you’re interested in, or remind yourself how successful and pleasurable everyone else’s lives are when compared to your own.
So what can we do to combat this?
One of the ways people combat addiction to technology is by taking a self-imposed break from technology and social media–a detox, if you will. This can be anywhere from a few hours, days, weeks or more. Imagine a time where you’re not hounded by emails and texts and pictures and likes. Does that sound like heaven to you? It may. However, just like quitting smoking sounds easy, as with any addiction, it requires significant willpower.
Some of the benefits people have found when they detox from technology are: improved sleep, deeper connections with their peers, and increased productivity.
It’s no secret that using technology before bed keeps our mind awake, both because of the “fomo” (fear of missing out) some people experience when they disengage from social media, and because the blue light coming from our screens prevents our brains from producing the melatonin necessary to help us fall asleep. We also tend to lose sleep by fooling ourselves into thinking “ok, I’ll just read one more article” or browse for another couple of minutes, when the reality is that that one more article often leads to another, and then another.
While we think that clicking “like” on someone’s photo and commenting on their status builds closeness with someone, in reality, depths of relationships can often only be forged by real face-to-face contact. Engaging with someone in a nonverbal manner (i.e., reading their body language and seeing their facial expressions) allows for a sense of empathy not gained via communication by text. Not being distracted by your phone means you can actually listen and pay attention to the other person–maybe you can even impress that girl you like by remembering her favorite brand of chocolate and surprising her with it the next time you see her.
When we limit our technology exposure, it makes a whole lot of sense that people find themselves being much more productive. At work, people find themselves accomplishing more projects faster and often produce better quality work. Your home life benefits too; many people have found it easier to keep a cleaner and neater home when not finding excuses to spend hours on their phone. And even better–they found they had more quality time to forge deeper connections with their loved ones as well. There is actually a special boost of serotonin that one gets from spending face-to-face time with loved ones–and it doesn’t come from being on social media.
At the end of the day, a detox from any addiction is rarely a bad thing. While we can’t–and wouldn’t want to–escape the offers of modern technology, no matter how long you choose to disengage in favor of living in the”‘real-world,” the likelihood is you’ll feel more relaxed, energized and productive.