Life during the most connected era in human history has many positives – distant relatives are just a FaceTime session away, and the answer to almost any question that comes to mind is at your fingertips.
But too much technology — whether it’s time spent on smartphones, social media or other digital screens — can have unintended consequences.
“Overuse of technology can take time away from activities like sleeping, exercising, and socializing, all of which are important for well-being,” says Carol Vidal, MD, PhD, MPH, an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Medicine in Baltimore.
A review published in June 2020 in Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience noted that frequent use of technology is associated with increased attention deficit symptoms, decreased emotional and social intelligence, technology addiction, social isolation, impaired brain development, and in some cases, disrupted sleep.
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Technology isn’t inherently bad, says Madeleine George, PhD, a public health research analyst at RTI International, a nonprofit research institute, in Durham, North Carolina. “Technology and social media can have positive or negative effects depending on what someone is doing online and who they are.”
For example, other research suggests that using social media can help you build and maintain connections when you interact more actively with others, but has the opposite effect when people use it more passively, such as when scrolling through an Instagram or Facebook feed. without interacting with the content, according to a review published in February 2018 in Current directions in psychological science.
You know you’re exaggerating when technology is disrupting your work, relationships, mental and physical health, or finances, according to Brittany Becker, a licensed mental health consultant and the director of the Dorm (a holistic mental health treatment center). , substance use, and life coaching) in New York City.
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dr. Vidal agrees. “If something consumes a lot of your thoughts and conditions your behavior, and when it’s disrupting your life — like your job or schoolwork or your relationships — it might be time to consider cutting back on its use,” Vidal says.
Scaling back can have positive effects.
A study published in 2021 by the Libyan Journal of Medicine found that students who completed a detox through social media reported positive changes in their mood, sleep and anxiety. And another study, published in February 2020 in Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networks, found that women who stopped using Instagram reported higher life satisfaction and more positive affect than women who continued to use the social media app. (It should be noted that both studies were small.)
7 Ways to Cut Down on Your Tech Use (Without Pulling the Plug All the Way)
For most people, it won’t be about technology at all. “Wearing seems like a more realistic approach,” Vidal says.
Make a plan for this, says Becker. Determine your unhealthy habits and then decide which ones you want to change. “I think it’s really helpful to get a clear picture of your tech usage and see the time you’ve spent on your phone,” Becker says. “How that time is divided with different applications is a great place to start, and then you can determine which areas to start narrowing down.”
dr. George suggests cutting back on anything that makes you feel worse or stressed, or takes your life away instead of adding to it. And remember, what healthy technology use entails varies from person to person. “There is no magical amount of screen time that is good or bad,” George says. “You have to find out what works for you and your family.”
Here are seven strategies to help you manage your technology use and experiment with your own personal digital detox.
1. Schedule time away from screens all day
When you’re on a computer, it’s hard to avoid screens, which means it’s all the more important to prioritize escaping. Set time on your calendar or with an alarm on your phone to remind you to go for a walk or have lunch outside your desk, Becker says. And don’t forget to leave your phone behind.
2. Periodically take a break from technology
Breaks can reduce stress, especially in heavy users, Vidal says. She says more research is needed on digital abstinence before specific recommendations can be made about what this looks like and how long it should last. But it could mean joining others who are committed to disconnecting through events like Digital Detox (a company leading technology-free retreats) or removing problematic apps from your phone, temporarily or for good.
“If the Facebook app is something you click on a lot and find yourself scrolling through it for a long time, uninstalling the app and having to go through the search browser is an extra step and you can pause and decide if it’s a good time to participate in this activity,” says Becker.
3. Downgrade your phone
If you struggle to stay present, eliminate the distraction by replacing your smartphone with a simple mobile phone that doesn’t support apps. “It can be absolutely beneficial to downgrade from a smartphone if you can,” said Jennifer Kelman, a licensed clinical social worker at JustAnswer, based in Boca Raton, Florida. In fact, this is what she has for her children. “They have basic calling or texting features and that’s it,” she says.
4. Turn off your phone at a specified time
Try to switch off before dinner and until the next morning. Or Apple users can enable Do Not Disturb, which suppresses alerts, notifications, and calls. Becker says it’s a good idea to take advantage of the tools built into your devices.
5. Adjust your phone settings to restrict certain apps
iPhone users can set limits with Screen Time (find it in your phone’s settings) and schedule downtime, when only phone calls or specific apps are allowed and specific apps have a time limit. Digital Wellbeing works the same way for Google devices. People who didn’t use these features were more likely to have problematic smartphone use and poorer wellbeing than those who did use them, according to an analysis published in August 2020 in Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networks.
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6. Create no-phone areas
Kelman believes that setting limits for certain apps doesn’t always work. Instead, she tells you to completely remove yourself from device usage. For example, banning phones and screens from the bedroom can prevent screens from disrupting your sleep, Becker says. And having to move to another room or part of your house to use a device can keep you from mindlessly scrolling.
7. Consider contacting a mental health professional
“We are all constantly using technology, so it can be difficult to always tell the difference between having a problem or not,” says Becker. If your behavior or feelings about technology or certain apps and sites begin to interfere with your day-to-day functioning, it may be time to seek professional help, Becker says. Kelman adds that if your self-esteem is plummeting or if you find yourself experiencing anxiety or depression, it’s time to talk to someone.