Is it time for a screen break?

Do you check your phone or tablet first thing in the morning? Last thing at night? Maybe you look to your phone to pass the time when bored, or in an uncomfortable social situation. Have you ever felt the sensation of your phone vibrating when it isn’t? [1] If you have experienced any of the above, you are not alone. According to a survey conducted by Ofcom in 2015 [2], UK adults spend an average of eight hours a day online, checking phones up to 150 times during this time.

The breakneck speed of the development of Internet and its growing accessibility to us on a wide array of devices including laptops, smartphones, tablets and wearable technology has been nothing short of revolutionary. We can find a partner, control our heating, lock and unlock our cars, monitor our heart rate and check for alcohol blood content with our phones [3]. As well as all of this, we can immerse ourselves in a virtual social world via any of the hundreds of social media platforms that inhabit every sphere of online life.

The above may sound like we are living in a gadget rich online utopia. However, as phone check to the annoyance of themselves or others will already know, this digital revolution has brought it’s own problems.

Several research studies show a relationship between depression, anxiety, attention problems and heavy internet use [4]. We can find ourselves constantly distracted. This isn’t just attributable to our own levels of self-control however. There is a huge business interest invested in keeping us glued to our devices (see for instance work by Adam Alter).

So what can we do if we want to cut down on online time and reconnect with the offline world?

  • Ban phones and tablets from the bedroom. Using phones last thing at night affects Melatonin (the hormone involved in sleep) levels, which impacts on the quality of sleep.
  • Take a lunch break without your phone. Research [5] has shown that whilst using a phone at lunch can distract from work, it doesn’t offer the same emotional relief as taking a complete break. They found that breaks spent on a phone are not as rejuvenating as a regular break.
  • Set aside allocated time to read and respond to emails and turn off notifications in between. Research suggests there is a link between checking emails less frequently and reduced stress. [6]
  • Take a walk in the park and turn off your phone. Several studies [7] have found that people who spent even brief periods in nature showed a reduction in anxiety and rumination. Using all our senses to observe the world around us can help us to stay in the present.
  • Open up. Are you relying on your phone to avoid discomfort or boredom? Practise bringing the same skills of observing the outside world to your internal world. Building an awareness of what’s happening for you can be a useful way to cope with discomfort rather than avoiding it.
  • Connect with others in real life. We are social animals and close relationships are a key part of a valued and meaningful life. There are innumerable benefits to spending time with others in real time.
  • Take a leaf out of Steve Jobs’ book. Apparently Steve Jobs [8], Bill Gates and other tech leaders have routinely limited the amount of technology and screen time used in their homes.

[1] http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0747563215003611
[2] https://www.ofcom.org.uk/research-and-data/internet-and-on-demand-research
[3] https://www.techlicious.com/tip/8-weird-things-you-can-do-with-your-smartphone/
[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4804263/
[5] http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0747563215302703?via%3Dihub
[6] https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/cabc/72acef5e322d3d024601acdabca75cbdf86f.pdf
[7] http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1749-6632.2011.06400.x/full
[8] https://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/11/fashion/steve-jobs-apple-was-a-low-tech-parent.html

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