Do you ever feel over-stimulated or over-whelmed and not know why? In today’s accelerated culture, we are always connected and on the go. If you think about it, there is a “glorification of busy” in our society. For some strange reason, we seem to wear our insane state of busyness as a badge of honor.
A few years ago, Dr. Nancy Collier wrote a wonderful book, The Power of Off: The Mindful Way to Stay Sane in a Virtual World. She presented us with some staggering statistics:
- The average person spends more than eight hours per day on his or her phone or laptop. This is more than most of us sleep each night.
- Young adults average 110 texts per day.
- Most people check their smart phones 150 times per day.
- The average person spends thirteen hours per week checking/working on email.
- Seventy percent of children think their parents spend too much time on their devices.
- The average person spends about twelve hours per day staring at screens (phones, computers, electronic reading devices, TVs, etc.).
What does all this mean? It means we are always turned on, stimulated, and connected. Technology in and of itself is not a bad thing. In fact, we rely on technology to get things done. However, a more mindful approach to technology is key to living a healthier life. More research in the past few years tells us that too much tech and screen time may cause mental, social, and emotional issues. Some of the issues may include, but are not limited to: a desynchronized body clock, altered brain chemistry, and raised stress hormones.
If tech addiction causes damage to adult’s brains, just think of what it does to a developing child’s brain. Dr. Victoria Dunckley, MD, specializes in working with children who have what is referred to as “Electronic Screen Syndrome.” Some of the symptoms from this include: dysregulated moods (irritable, tearful, rageful, etc.), impaired cognition (poor focus, forgetful, and disorganized), and dysfunctional behavior (oppositional, impulsive, and low empathy).
From a neurological perspective, brain scans of tech-addicted individuals reveals the extensive damages that our devices and gadgets can wreak on our brains, including: gray matter atrophy, thinner cortex, white matter fragmentation, reduced dopamine (receptors and transporters), and abnormal processing. Basically, the brains of tech- addicted individuals look similar in terms of damage to the brains of people who suffer from alcohol and substance abuse.
So what does all of this mean? Plain and simple: we need to have a more mindful relationship with our tech devices. When you have an opportunity to put your phone away, put it down for a few minutes. Start thinking about how much you use your tech devices, and make an intention to use them less. It sounds simple, but it’s not. Any positive habit takes time to cultivate and put into practice, including this one.
If you think about it in our age of distraction, we don’t allow ourselves to just “be” anymore. When is the last time you just sat and did nothing? I’m not suggesting you become a sloth. I am suggesting, however, that you build in a few pockets of silence and stillness per day when you put your phone down and let yourself be bored. It seems that boredom is the great enemy in our society. Part of the reason for this is because we are not comfortable sitting along with just our thoughts and emotions. We immediately have to pull out our phones and look at social media or monkey videos on YouTube. Sitting alone with our thoughts and emotions has its benefits. Most significantly, it will help you to improve your self-awareness. Being bored isn’t a bad thing, either. Entering a state of boredom clears space in our heads. This space is where we tap into creativity and imagination. Great stuff happens here!
So the next time you are having a nice meal with your significant other, and the urge to whip out your phone and check your Facebook profile washes over you, resist the urge to do so. It’s a win win:
- You’re helping yourself stay in the present moment.
- You are giving your mate the best possible gift ever: your full attention.
And the next time your children asks for their devices because they say they are bored, say “No.” Tell them that boredom is a good thing. They may look at you like you are crazy and pitch a fit initially. However, over time, they will thank you for it.
Greg Graber is the Head of Middle School at Lausanne Collegiate School, a Lausanne Learning Mentor, author of Slow Your Roll: Mindfulness for Fast Times, and renowned sports and mindfulness consultant. You can find Greg’s original post on his blog here, and if you’d like to engage him to bring mindfulness to your school, click here!