It’s not easy, but I’m going to do it.
Like many of you, I’m attached to my technology. I’m always using my smartphone for business and to stay in touch with friends and loved ones, and to be honest, I have to remind myself to avoid taking it into my bedroom so it doesn’t disturb my sleep. Then of course I’m on my computer most every day to run my business, which adds up to more screen time.
Like most of us, I’m constantly checking emails, Tweets, Facebook updates, and more on my various machines first thing in the morning, throughout the day, and last thing at night. My phone, in particular, is always with me, and if it isn’t, I panic.
But this holiday season, I’m setting limits, because I know it’s good for me and my health. Studies are showing us that all this time on technology is affecting our health and wellbeing, as well as our relationships. Here’s why I hope you’ll join me!
Truth #1: The “Always On” Culture Increases Stress
We already have a lot to deal with during the holiday season. We don’t need more stress, right? In fact we’re supposed to be using our time off to relax. If we’re still stuck to our technology, however, we’re not going to experience much relaxation.
Scientists tell us that using our smartphones for work leads to an “always-on” inability to detach from our jobs. “The increased productivity associated with staying connected to work in the evening hours is often achieved at the cost of mental health,” say researchers Daantje Derks, Heleen van Mierlo, and Elisabeth B. Schmitz of Erasmus University, “yielding higher stress levels which may lead to poor recovery, impaired performance, fatigue, and sleep complaints.”
It’s not just when we use them for work, though. Other research has shown that the pressure to stay connected with even friends and family can create additional stress. That’s because we’re compelled to be continually checking all the time. And when there’s a message, we feel we have to immediately respond.
Researcher Richard Balding, a psychologist in the department of psychology at the University of Worcester, states that the more we use our phones and tablets, the more we become dependent on them, “actually courting stress instead of relieving it.” He found in his studies that the more participants checked their phones, the more their stress increased.
“Smartphones put us in an ever-increasing state of hyper-vigilance,” says David Greenfield, Ph.D., founder of the Center for Internet and Technology Addiction, “where we’re always feeling compelled to check our calls, texts, social media alerts, email, and more. This keeps the adrenals constantly activated and cortisol levels elevated.”
The solution? Spend some time on your own, without checking for messages or updates. The upcoming holiday is the perfect time, don’t you think? Can you put your gadgets away even for just a day? If that seems like too much, try just a few hours. Research shows that the more you set it aside, the easier it will become-and the less stress you’ll feel.
Truth #2: Screens Disrupt Our Sleep
That our smartphones, tablets, and laptops disrupt our sleep if we use them at night is no longer in question.
The problem is that they emit blue light, which directly communicates to the brain that it’s time to wake up. It also suppresses the hormone melatonin, which promotes sleep and helps regulate circadian rhythms.
In a 2012 study, for example, Harvard researchers compared the effect of 6.5 hours of exposure to blue light to 6.5 hours exposure to green light. They found that the blue light suppressed melatonin for twice as long, and shifted sleep schedules by three hours, compared to 1.5 hours.
A more recent study also reported that gadgets like e-readers not only suppressed melatonin, but reduced the total number of minutes participants experienced that important REM deep sleep, which is the most restorative and healing type of sleep.
To compare, a recent study found that drinking a double espresso before bed would have less effect on your circadian rhythms and sleep schedule than exposure to bright lights like those in smartphones and tablets at night.
The solution? Hopefully you’re unplugging for the holidays, but either way, shut the technology off a couple hours before bed, and please, don’t take any of it into the bedroom with you. (If I can do it, you can!)
Truth #3: Gadgets Cause Pain
Have you noticed your neck hurting lately? How about your hands, wrists, or elbows?
All that time spent on our gadgets is causing us pain. “Text Claw” is now an actual term used to describe the cramps and soreness we experience in our fingers and hands after hours on a smartphone.
Using the gadgets too much has also been linked with tendon inflammation and finger numbness, and may even exacerbate carpal tunnel syndrome. “Cell Phone Elbow” is the term used for the pain and tingling that may travel from your elbow to your fingers because of using it to support your phone for too long.
“Text Neck?” That means you’ve been slouching over your phone or tablet for hours, straining the muscles and tendons in your back and neck. Would you believe that according to one study, 84 percent of participants experienced back pain because of being hunched over smartphones, tablets, and computers?
And then there’s the wear and tear on our eyes. Have you heard of “computer vision syndrome?” It applies to cell phones and tablets too-anything with a screen. Hours of staring at them increases eye strain, blurred vision, dizziness, and dry eyes. One study even discovered that staring at screens for hours actually changed the chemical makeup of tears, reducing the amount of “MUC5AC,” a lubricant in tears, and increasing the risk of dry eye syndrome.
You can try fixing your posture while using these gadgets, but better yet-take a break from them. Looking away at least once every 20 minutes will help your eyes, as will taking a day off now and then.
Using Holiday Time to Regenerate and Recuperate
Unplugging not only spares us all these ailments, but can also do something that’s perhaps even more important-help us reconnect to what matters most.
It used to be that the holidays were a time to spend with family and friends, and to relax and recuperate after a year of hard work. It’s common these days, however, to see families sitting around the table, all of them staring at their gadgets rather than conversing with each other. It’s also common for people to spend the holidays rushing around to this and that activity, to the point that they’re exhausted by the time New Year’s Day rolls around.
In a recent study of 35 CEOs, in which the participants had to give up their gadgets for four days, researchers observed a number of changes. For one, people started looking up into people’s eyes, rather than down into their screens.
“A wonderful side effect of this is that people’s general energy opens up,” said Kate Unsworth, CDO of Kovert Designs, and leader of the study. “They appear much more approachable when they enter a room.”
Conversations improved, and led to bonding between participants. Memory and sleep also improved, which is no surprise, but something else really interesting happened: people had a chance to reflect on their lives, and some decided to make positive changes. Being away from technology allowed them to think about the more important issues in their lives, after which they committed to changes in their careers, relationships, or health and well being.
“It seems grandiose to say this,” said Unsworth, “but many of our guests said that this was a life-changing experience.”
Finding a Better Use of Your Time
I hope you’ll join me in setting aside the gadgets this holiday. I think you may be surprised at how it makes you feel. Beware that you may be anxious at first. You may even experience “withdrawal” symptoms. (Most people do.)
Check out these quotes from people who’ve tried it:
“Without all the pressure to surf, tweet, and ‘like,’ I felt liberated, my attention span extended.”
(Shelley Emling, Huffington Post)
“I’ve found that most of the deadlines and time constraints I had been stressing about were pretty arbitrary.” (Brittany Ancell, 99u.com)
“Holy moly, it’s incredible how much time we waste on screens. When I first started this challenge, I was shocked at how much time I suddenly had.” (Madison Feller, Vox Magazine)
“It’s a good feeling to know we survived the week and found meaningful ways to fill our time. Surprisingly, when the week ended the kids were not even asking for their electronics. This confirmed my theory that, at least with my family, the more you use technology, the more you crave it.” (Jennifer Lovy, Huffington Post)
Will you unplug for a time this holiday season? Please share any tips you may have with our readers.
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Derks D, et al., “A diary study on work-related smartphone use, psychological detachment and exhaustion: examining the role of the perceived segmentation norm,” J Occup Health Psychol., January 2014; 19(1):74-84, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24447222.
Alan Mozes, “Your Smartphone May Be Stressing You Out,” HealthDay, January 12, 2012, http://www.everydayhealth.com/emotional-health/0112/your-smartphone-may-be-stressing-you-out.aspx?xid=tw_everydayhealth_20120112_smartphone.
Paige Fowler, “New Study Reveals Even More Ways Your Smartphone Is Stressing You Out,” Men’s Health, February 19, 2015, http://www.menshealth.com/health/how-smartphones-stress-you-out.
Olga Khazan, “How Smartphones Hurt Sleep,” The Atlantic, February 24, 2015, http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2015/02/how-smartphones-are-ruining-our-sleep/385792/.
“Blue light has a dark side,” Harvard Health Letter, May 1, 2012, http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/blue-light-has-a-dark-side.
Anne-Marie Chang, et al., “Evening use of light-emitting eReaders negatively affects sleep, circadian timing, and next-morning alertness,” PNAS, January 27, 2015; 112(4):1232-1237, http://www.pnas.org/content/112/4/1232.full.
Tina M. Burke, et al., “Effects of caffeine on the human circadian clock in vivo and in vitro,” Science Translational Medicine, September 16, 2015; 7(305):305ral46, http://stm.sciencemag.org/content/7/305/305ra146.
Tracy Miller, “iPosture blamed for surging back pain among young adults,” New York Daily News, October 1, 2013, http://www.nydailynews.com/life-style/health/iposture-blamed-surging-back-pain-young-adults-article-1.1472870.
Shelley Emling, “What Really Happened When I Unplugged from the Internet,” Huffington Post, July 29, 2013, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/shelley-emling/disconnecting-from-the-internet_b_3653547.html.
Brittany Ancell, “Lab Rat: What Happens When You Unplug from Your Internet Addiction?” 99u.com, http://99u.com/articles/6255/lab-rat-what-happens-when-you-unplug-from-your-internet-addiction.
Madison Feller, “What REALLY happened when I ‘unplugged’ for a week,” Vox Magazine, September 19, 2015, http://www.voxmagazine.com/2015/09/what-really-happened-when-i-unplugged-for-a-week/.
Jennifer Lovy, “We Unplugged for a Week and Survived,” Huffington Post, August 31, 2015, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jennifer-lovy/we-unplugged-for-a-week-and-survived_b_8057394.html.
Elizabeth Segran, “What Really Happens to Your Brain and Body During a Digital Detox,” Fast Company, http://www.fastcompany.com/3049138/most-creative-people/what-really-happens-to-your-brain-and-body-during-a-digital-detox