By Kelsey Casselbury 2017-05-01 03:00:34
Improvement begins with “I” Do You Need an E-Tox? » Smartphones, tablets, TVs and other 21st century technologies are vital tools, but they can also lead to social isolation, anxiety, depression and lack of responsibility. No Mobile Phone Phobia: Nomophobia. This is a made-up word, right? Well, yes, but not by School Nutrition. It was coined in 2010 in a British study of smartphone usage, describing the very state of mind that many of us—more than we might care to admit, perhaps—live in. We have become so dependent that we have real, physical anxiety if we are separated from the device. It’s not just about smartphones, either, but an addiction to all forms of interactive technology, including tablets, computers and DVRs—or even specific apps, sites or add-ons, such as Facebook, video games or streaming videos. Clearly, technology is an intrinsic part of life in 2017 and, for most, it’s simply not realistic to ignore or avoid phone, tablet and laptop use for a significant amount of time. This fact makes it harder to draw the line between appropriate technology usage and concerning behavior. It might seem like everyone is checking their phones as often as you are (the average American adult looks at his or her smartphone an average of 47 times per day, according to 2016 research), but are they really? How do you know the difference between what’s conventional and what’s problematic? Problem? What Problem? You should be concerned if you start developing the physical symptoms of a technology addiction. These include headaches; sore or cramping wrists and fingers; carpal tunnel syndrome; neck- or backaches from poor posture; and dry, red, blurry eyes from staring at a screen. Some of these physical symptoms arise from other habits or conditions, of course, so you might want a little more to go on. There are mental, emotional or habitual behaviors, too. Do any of these sound familiar? » You check your phone or computer as soon as you wake up. (That 2016 smartphone study, from Deloitte, found that 40% of users check their phones within 5 minutes of waking up.) » You’d rather spend time using technology— whether text messaging, playing a game or social networking—than engaging in offline activities. » You find yourself skimping on sleep, because you’ve stayed up too late using your favorite gadget, or you’re waking up early to get back to your technological activities. (Fifty percent of respondents in the Deloitte study check their phone in the middle of the night.) » If someone asks you how much time you spend on your phone, tablet or computer (or even how much you watch TV), you’re not entirely honest about it. » You start surfing the Internet at 4 p.m., and the next thing you know, it’s 8 p.m., and you forgot to have dinner—you just totally lost track of the time you spent online. » When you forget your phone or the battery runs down, you feel anxious and like you’re missing something important. Tech addiction doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re just spending too much time reading Reddit and Facebook posts. It could mean that you’re addicted to online dating or that you put more stock in your virtual relationships, such as through a message board, than you do with your local friends. It could be you have developed an issue with online gambling or shopping (e.g. “ebaying”). If you find that some of these symptoms hit too close to home, perhaps it’s time for an e-tox. What’s the Issue? Occasionally you spend a few too many hours browsing Pinterest or exploring Amazon. What’s the big deal? You might be surprised. Even if you find yourself connecting with strangers across the globe in a support group or engaging with long-distance friends and family, spending too much time online—particularly on social media—has shown correlations with increased anxiety and depression, according to 2014 research. Excessive tech time can also raise your stress levels, particularly if technology keeps you constantly connected with work. Yes, it can feel great to be on top of your projects, but tech can make it difficult to disconnect or be out of touch from your boss or coworkers. You might find it hard to focus, as excessive tech use can overwhelm the brain and exacerbate attention deficit disorders. Tech addictions also impair your ability to think deeply or creatively. A consequential lack of sleep that can grow out of a tech obsession can intensify all of these issues, worsening the problem. Kicking the Habit Like most other addictions, there are two primary ways you can go about trying to break your bad habits: You can try easing off incrementally or you can go cold turkey. Only you know which way is likely to be the most effective for you. As author Gretchen Rubin, who focuses on happiness and building better habits, puts it, some people are “moderators” and some are “abstainers.” (If you’re not sure which one you are, you can take a quiz on Rubin’s website, http://tinyurl.com/habitsquiz-sn, and find out.) Essentially, moderators are able to cut down on bad habits slowly, indulging only occasionally. Abstainers, on the other hand, must go cold turkey—if they pick up that tablet just once, they’ll be on it for hours. No matter which profile fits your personality, when it comes to breaking a tech dependency, there are a few universal tips to consider when pledging a personal e-tox goal. » Get real about the time-suck. It’s a bit counterintuitive to look to an app that will help you address a technology addiction, but sometimes this is your best strategy for making needed behavioral changes. Download apps on your phone or tablet designed to track how often you use each device. (Some iOS apps include “Moment” and “Checky.” On Android, look into “QualityTime” and “Break Free.”) There are also apps that allow you to block other apps, such as Facebook or Candy Crush, or limit your access to these to certain times of the day. On your computer, check out RescueTime to calculate how much time you spend on certain tech-related activities when you’ve logged in. » What’s your tech trigger? Do you reach for the phone when you’re bored or when you’re lonely? Are you trying to put off a task that you really don’t want to deal with? There are more productive ways to manage your feelings—and remember that extended procrastination only hurts you in the long run! » Start small. Some people, particularly moderators, need to take baby steps when breaking a bad habit. Set an intention— and follow through—to go at least one full hour in your waking day without watching a TV show, playing an e-game, reviewing social media posts or using the Internet. Do this each day for one week. Do it again for a second week. By the third week, try boosting this abstention to 90 minutes a day. » Set aside time for “real life” interaction. Has your current circle of friends and family become similarly tech dependent? Pledge to schedule a phone conversation or a face-to-face get-together, instead of only texting and private-messaging one another. Perhaps you’ve turned to online support communities as a primary means of communication. These have their place— especially if you’re shy—but you should make a point to mix it up a bit. You can develop meaningful relationships with local connections; start by asking a coworker to join you for happy hour, coffee or a walk. Plan to volunteer your time in some type of group activity. Join a hobby club or group that has regular meetings. Get involved in your place of worship. » Find alternate activities. Do you find yourself playing a game on your laptop or phone for no good reason—simply because? Are you having that much fun? Be prepared with a list of alternate activities to tackle when you’re feeling bored or lonely. Power down the computer, head outside and go for a walk. Pick up a paperback or a magazine. Use your phone to call a friend and chat. Break out your colored pencils and take a little adult coloring time. Tackle a mini home project, like sorting the junk drawer in the kitchen or matching all those single socks. It’s likely you just need a brief distraction to get you through to the next meaningful activity. » Turn off notifications. It’s so easy to be sucked into your tech device when you get an alert that someone has commented on your photo on Facebook, or that Buzzfeed has a new quiz that sounds like fun or an email or text message has arrived in your inbox. Go into the settings on your phone, tablet or other device and turn off these notifications— allow yourself to see all these updates when you login at a specifically scheduled time. » Go nuclear. If you’re really having a hard time with a moderate approach, you may need to take a few drastic measures. First, you can turn off more than just notifications on your smartphone; you can also turn off your cellular and wifi data, which will prevent you from going online or receiving text messages. (Some parents disconnect the wifi at homework- or bedtime to keep their youngsters from social media connections.) When you’re ready to start it up again, readjust the settings. Even more drastic, switch out your smartphone for a “dumb phone,” i.e. one without Internet capabilities, that you use only for making phone calls and maybe text messages. Hand off tempting devices to loved ones for safekeeping—you and your spouse can agree to put the smartphones and tablets in a downstairs drawer when heading for bed. Let the Disconnect Take Effect When it comes to breaking your technology habit, it’s not just about improving your life—it turns you into a good role model for your kids, friends and employees. If you get annoyed when your bestie starts texting in the middle of a dinner date, how do you think others feel when you do it? If you want your kids to be present and focused during family meals, shouldn’t you be, too? This will not be easy. It’s hard to get past the “what if someone needs me?” mindset that leads you to check and recheck your device for updates. But, consider this: Unless you’re a doctor or in another profession that saves lives, your contacts— even, in most cases, your kids—can probably wait an hour until you’re ready to check your phone. (And if there’s a real emergency, the phone will actually ring…it does that, you know.) Most of us lived a good part of our lives in the “dark ages,” before hand-held phones even existed, and we all survived, raised children and managed families just fine. Rest assured that it’s unlikely anything terrible will happen if you take some tech-free time. ARE YOU ADDICTED? It’s okay if you aren’t ready to admit that you might be addicted to technology. This short self-assessment may help you determine whether it’s time to change your behaviors. 1 Do you often absent-mindedly pass the time by using your electronic device, even when there are better things to do? Y N 2 Have you become bored or less entertained by games or websites that you once loved? Y N 3 Do you regularly sleep with your smartphone on or next to your bed, checking it when you are restless or first waking up? Y N 4 Do you use your phone while driving or doing other activities that require your focused attention? Y N 5 Do you constantly check the phone whenever there is a natural break in your attention or activity (i.e. a commercial break on TV, a lull in conversation, while waiting in a line, etc.)? Y N 6 Are you experiencing “phantom vibration,” a persistent need to check your phone for new activity, even if there has been no notification? Y N 7 When you leave the house do you always have your smartphone with you and feel ill-at-ease if you accidentally leave it at home? Y N 8 Have you ever returned home specifically to retrieve a forgotten smartphone? Y N 9 When you eat meals, is your smartphone always part of the table place setting? Y N 10 Do friends, family members or coworkers regularly nag you to put down your device or turn off the TV to spend time with them? Y N 11Do you neglect your chores or work more than once a week because you opt to spend more time with technology? Y N 12 Have you made choices to prioritize communicating online with people who live in other parts of the country or world over getting together live with local friends? Y N If you answered “yes” to six or more of these questions, you might have an addiction to technology and should take steps to reduce your reliance on your favorite electronic devices. 75% Facebook users who visit the site at least once a day. 8 MILLION The number of times per day that Americans collectively check their phones. Kelsey Casselbury is a contributing editor for School Nutrition and a former managing editor of the publication. Research statistics courtesy of Deloitte and Pew Research.
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