Continually checking your email, texting, surfing the web or playing online games can be as destructive as other types of addictions like substance abuse or gambling. The brain can become conditioned to the need for the instant gratification that technology offers. A digital preoccupation can become unhealthy if it starts affecting your real-life relationships. For example, if you’re compulsively viewing your screen in the presence of others, or substituting social media interactions for real-life interactions, you can miss out on meaningful conversations and the deep closeness with others that supports positive mental health. Here’s what you should know.
Watch for warning signs of unhealthy use: Feeling moody or restless if you can’t go online; hearing complaints from family and friends about your time spent online; frequently choosing to spend time online over going out with other people; and hiding or becoming defensive about your online activities.
Taking a digital detox can bea healthy antidote! Some tips include:
- Make screen time off limits when you’re with friends or family
- Turn off your cell phone at work; leave it behind when attending outings or activities
- Make meals technology-free as a chance to reconnect with others at the table
- Keep the phone out of sight when meeting with someone. Having a phone in plain view creates an expectation of interruptions and distractions, preventing you and your listener from truly connecting on a deep, meaningful manner. The depth of conversation can increase. And when there is no phone in sight, everyone can remain focused on the conversation and the verbal and non-verbal messages.
- Don’t answer calls when someone else is talking
- Avoid responding immediately to every text
- Don’t take your phone to bed or use it as an alarm clock
- Limit information overload. Eliminate constant news feeds and performing limitless searches looking for the perfect clothing, car, tech gadget, etc.
- Unplug completely for a set amount of time daily
- Forgo digital distractions completely for one day a week and only make real-life connections during that day. For example, try Face-to-Face Friday. It’s something like meatless Mondays, only the idea is to have a day when you completely limit digital interactions wherever possible. For example, pick up the phone and invite a colleague for coffee. Being face-to-face helps build trust.
- Use texting only to say thank you or for a meeting confirmation, for example—not to “talk”. Texts lack the tone and other verbal cues and also uses shorthand that not everyone understands. A quick phone call could save countless time that back-and-forth text messages steal.
If your online technology is causing distress in your life, talk to your healthcare practitioner about professionals and resources that can help you control your digital technology use so it enhances your life rather than detracts from it.