Modern technology is fantastic.
Any information we want is literally at our fingertips 24/7.
What’s more, we can contact people around the world within seconds, and talk to them as though they were in the same room.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what technology can do for us.
Our lives have undoubtedly been improved by these advances, but unfortunately the benefits come at a cost.
There’s an epidemic of technology overuse sweeping through the developed world, and it’s taking a serious toll on people’s mental and physical health.
The problem is that while it’s fine to use technology occasionally for work and communication, it is far too easy use technology excessively. And using technology excessively is exactly what most of us do.
Whenever we’re feeling bored, lonely, or restless, we reach for a screen to distract ourselves.
Unfortunately, this habit doesn’t resolve our feelings, but instead ends up numbing us or making us feel worse.
But we don’t just feel bad emotionally when we overuse technology, staring at screens can actually have a negative impact on our physical health too.
Is technology harming your health?
This article will help you recognize if you’re too dependent on technology, explain the very real health consequences of technology overuse, and give you strategies to turn off your screens so you can more fully live your life and improve your health.
How to recognize if you’re overusing technology
While completely avoiding technology is practically impossible in today’s society, most of us far exceed necessary usage.
Instead of engaging in the world, we turn to our screens anytime we feel the slightest bit of boredom and discomfort, and this can have serious consequences on our well-being.
But before you can solve the problem, you need to identify if you even have a problem.
8 Indicators That You Are Overusing Technology:
1. You reach for your phone anytime you’re waiting, whether you’re in line at the grocery store or stopped at a red light.
2. You have your phone or computer on the table during meals.
3. When you talk to your family/friends/co-workers there is usually a screen physically dividing the space between you and your companion.
4. You look at a screen in the middle of conversations.
5. You check facebook/twitter/instagram more than 3 times a day.
6. You mindlessly scroll through websites, without spending more than a minute on any piece of information before you move on to the next thing.
7. You feel strange if you leave your house without your phone, even just for half an hour.
8. You make jokes that you are “addicted” to the internet.
Technology overuse isn’t just a theoretical problem. It can have physical and emotional consequences that can eventually lead to serious health issues.
9 Signs and Symptoms That Can Be Caused by Overusing Technology:
1.Your brain feels cloudy
2. You get headaches
3. Your appetite is off and/or you crave sweet food
4. You have loose stools and/or get bloated or gassy after eating
5. You feel restless, anxious, and/or depressed
6. You increasingly have trouble focusing
7. Your body feels achy and stagnant, especially your legs
8. You feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done
9. You suffer from insomnia
So you have a problem with technology, now what?
At this point you’ve probably realized that technology is negatively impacting your health in unexpected ways. The good news is, there are plenty of strategies to unplug, get back to life, and reclaim your natural vibrancy.
The #1 strategy to overcome technology overuse is to practice mindfulness.
Mindfulness is an active meditation technique that brings you into a full experience of the present moment through awareness of your senses.
The first step of mindfulness is to start to notice. Next time you find yourself scrolling through facebook or reaching for your smartphone at a bus stop, pause, take a deep breath, and smile.
Feel how the air feels going in and out of your nostrils.
Notice your belly and lungs expanding with the inhale, and relax back with the exhale.
Feel the earth pressing up against your feet.
Observe your surroundings, and tap into your senses. Experience the sounds, smells, tastes, colors, patterns, and textures around you. The more you tap into the present moment, the less you will feel the urge to turn to technology.
Remember, mindfulness is called a “practice” for a reason.
You’re not going to be perfect at it right away.
But if you integrate some mindfulness techniques into your daily life, it will become increasingly easy to fall into a calm and mindful state. And when you have a calm and mindful state, you will feel less restless and bored.
When you regularly use mindfulness techniques, over time you will significantly reduce your desire to reach for technology to fill the void.
Many books have been written on mindfulness. I highly recommend delving deeper into the topic because it can have a huge positive effects on all aspects of your life. If you’re interested, some good places to start are Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Coming to Your Senses, and Thich Nhat Hanh’s Peace is Every Step.
In addition to being mindful, setting limits is another solid way to reduce screen time and improve your health and wellbeing.
When you have the tendency to overuse technology, it is important to set limits for yourself so you can regain control over your usage. But when you have an engrained habit of reaching for technological distraction, completely eliminating technology can seem damn near impossible.
When you find yourself addicted to screens, what should you do?
Be kind to yourself and start slowly.
Instead of making general statements like “I will no longer surf the internet when I’m bored,” set realistic, specific, and necessary limitations.
Avoid technology at these 5 pivotal times:
When You Wake Up.
Postpone technology for an hour after you wake up. Mindfully engaging in the physical world around you as you enter into your day, rather than reaching for screen distractions, will set a precedent for the rest of your day.
While You Walk.
It is far too common to see people walking while they stare at their phones. This isn’t just a lost opportunity to enjoy and engage in your surroundings, it can actually be really dangerous.
When you’re staring at your phone you’re less likely to notice cars and discrepancies in the road in front of you, significantly increasing your risk of injury.
So for heaven’s sake, put your phone away, watch where you’re going, and enjoy where you are for a change!
When You Talk.
When you’re talking to someone, focus on them entirely. Put your phone away, close your laptop, and make sure there are no physical barriers between you and the person you’re talking to.
When you’ve become overly accustomed to your screen (as most of us have), just seeing a screen from the corner of your eye can distract your attention from the person in front of you.
To avoid this, make sure that there are no screens within your line of sight, even if they’re turned off.
The screen will be there when you are done with your conversation.
As You Eat.
Implement a steadfast rule that you cannot use screens at mealtimes. This won’t just help you move away from technology overuse, it will improve your relationships, digestion, and mental focus.
And you’ll actually enjoy the food you’re eating, so you’ll be less likely to overeat or crave snacks between meals.
Before You Sleep.
Staring at screens before bed has been shown to disrupt sleep patterns. Both the artificial blue light and the hyperactive mental activity technology inspires contribute to insomnia and an overall sense of agitation and malaise.
So just as you postpone technology for an hour in the morning, turn off your screens an hour before bed.
Instead of distracting yourself with screens in the evening, take advantage of the time to talk to your family, read poetry, write in a journal, take a bath, go for a gentle evening stroll, or practice some form of meditation.
When you do, you’ll fall asleep easier, feel refreshed in the morning, and have more energy throughout your day.
Given technology’s pervasiveness and necessity in today’s world, it is unlikely that you will be able to totally unplug for a long period of time.
But as I’ve shown you in this article, when you take small steps to move away from excessively using technology, and instead take the opportunity to engage in the world around you, you’ll notice a positive shift in your emotions and physical well-being.