We live in an always connected world. We keep our smartphones at our fingertips. We use many screens at once. And the answers to our questions are just a quick Google search away. This connectedness is good, enabling innovation and speeding communication. But it can be harmful if we let it consume our lives.
Digital devices are oddly addictive. According to a recent study, up to 8 percent of people in the U.S. and Europe have Internet Addiction Disorder (yes, that's a real thing!). This addiction may stem from the brain chemical dopamine, which is responsible for the feelings of satisfaction we get for emotional rewards. When a funny video, for example, stirs our emotions positively, the brain releases dopamine. But researchers have also discovered that excessive Internet use can damage your brain as it disrupts emotions, self-control, and decision-making.
Your brain needs a break from stimulation to function at its fullest. The seemingly relaxing and entertaining effects of digital activities are deceptive since they actually drain—rather than restore—your energy. Make time to unplug and focus face-to-face interactions to keep a balanced, healthy lifestyle.
Do you need a digital detox? If these examples feel like the story of your life, take these remedies to heart to squash your addiction.
01. You are attached to your smartphone.
Are you frazzled when you misplace your smartphone? Do you sleep with it next to your bed? Do you take it everywhere you go (scrolling through Instagram on the loo, anyone)?
It may be time to wean yourself off of your devices. Be intentional about setting your phone aside for extended periods of time. When eating out with friends, leave it in your bag instead of placing it on the table. If you’re headed out for a hike, store it in your backpack. Turn off notifications for your apps, emails, and texts at night for uninterrupted sleep. Or better yet, turn it off completely or place it in a separate room. Invest in an alarm clock so you won't have to rely on your phone to wake you up.
02. You default to screen time in your downtime.
Do you instinctively turn to your smartphone, tablet, laptop, or TV to unwind instead of picking up a book or taking a walk? Do you find yourself reaching for your device between projects at work or hanging out with a friend?
It’s easy to try to decompress in front of a screen after a long day. A poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation discovered that 95 percent of people use an electronic device within one hour of heading to bed. While perceived to have relaxing effects, screened devices prevent sleep since the light produced cues wakefulness. To avoid sleeplessness, keep your sleeping space as technology-free as possible. Before bed, read a book or engage in a screen-less hobby. It could be as simple as folding laundry or flipping through the latest edition of your favorite magazine.
03. You're afraid of silence.
Do you feel the need to always have background noise, whether it’s the radio, Spotify, iTunes, Netflix, or Hulu? Are you not comfortable when left to your own thoughts? Are you seeking constant distractions to occupy your mind?
A six-year study revealed that constant media immersion fosters fear of silence. Train yourself to spend a few chunks of time each day in complete silence. During your commute, fight the urge to pop in your headphones or play the radio in your car. You’ll find your thoughts aren’t as torturous or boring as you feared. Silence allows you to relax and think with clarity by lowering your blood cortisol and adrenaline levels.
04. Phone calls aren't your communication of preference.
Are most of your social interactions conducted over email, text, or Facebook instead of verbal or face-to-face? Do you let phone calls go to voicemail and then respond later via text?
In an age of emojis, abbreviations, and auto-correct, phone calls seem archaic and inefficient. But our reliance on spurts of textual communication decreases our willingness to have real-time, real-world conversations. Force yourself to dial up your best friend instead of shooting off a text. You’ll have a much more meaningful interaction that builds rather than distances your relationship.
05. You make daily choices for the sake of social media.
Are your plans based on the likelihood of a cool check-in? Are you often in pursuit of the next Instagram photo op?
We take great care to craft our social media profiles. Our virtual identities tend to portray our ideal selves: how we want the world to perceive us. The promise of social proof influences what we do, the clothes we wear, and the people we hang out with. Challenge yourself to leave no social media traces of your night out or weekend road trip. You’ll be able to live in the moment and think less about striking your most flattering pose.
06. You believe in multitasking.
Does multitasking go beyond multiple tasks to multiple devices? Do you go back and forth between the Facebook tab and writing a report? Do you find it difficult to focus on a single to-do without busting out your phone?
Multitasking is a productivity myth. Your efficiency decreases by 40 percent when you multitask. This is a result of the mental blocks created when transitioning between tasks. Productivity lessens even more when your attention shifts from one device to another. Looking from a computer screen to phone, for example, further widens the attention gap. Thwart this scatteredness by allotting your time to singular tasks. Even if it’s just 20-minute intervals, you’ll check things off your to-do list faster. You'll devote 100 percent of your attention, increasing your productivity and lessening potential mistakes.
07. You grab the closest device when left alone.
Do you immediately grab your smartphone the second your friend gets up for a refill at a coffee shop? Do you fidget in public places without a device to pore over? Do you reach for the TV remote as soon as you get home?
Practice restraint the next time you’re left to yourself. If your date went to pull up the car, don’t reach for your smartphone to scroll through your newsfeed. Observe your surroundings, do some people-watching, or brainstorm your next conversation topic. It will be difficult at first, but burying your nose in your smartphone projects insecurity. Give yourself a chance to be present in the moment. It will help you develop confidence and contentment with your own company.
If you can relate to any of these warning signs of digital addiction, it’s time to disconnect. Don’t be the one who’s known for glancing sideways at her smartphone or asking which filter looks best. Take in the screen-free world around you to experience and appreciate its beauty to the fullest. Technology has its place, but live your life unfiltered.