For some mobile phone users, the answer is about 6.5 minutes — studies found that is how often the average user checks his or her phone. It’s a side effect of our connected world. Checking our phones, email, text messages, or social media has become as normal as talking and breathing.
It’s also starting to have a negative effect on our collective mental health. How is this constant connectivity detrimental and how can unplugging help your mental health?
Your brain enjoys being constantly stimulated — it releases dopamine, which is one of the feel good chemicals that your brain creates in response to positive experiences. It’s also one of the same neurochecmicals that is released when you eat your favorite food, paint something you’re really proud of — or do drugs. While the latter isn’t the best option, and we’re not condoning drug use, dopamine makes you feel good.
It’s actually been compared to having ADHD. The cortex of your brain is designed to, among other things; keep you from being distracted from every new form of stimulation that you encounter. You might not have ADHD but that’s how your brain starts to respond when you don’t disconnect. You’re constantly distracted by every new bing, blip, and notification that comes out of your phone.
Bringing Work Home
How many of the texts and emails on your phone are related to work? We tend to take our work home with us, responding to emails and chatting with coworkers after we’ve been off the clock for hours. A study by the University of Toronto found that an average of 50% of people bring their work home with them. This interferes with your work-life balance and can be detrimental to your mental health.
Make it a point to leave work at work. As the last thing you do before your shift ends, pull out your phone and shut off the notifications for your work accounts. You can turn them back on before your next shift starts, but make sure that your work stuff stays at work.
You’ve finally made it home from work, shut off your phone notifications, and started relaxing. What do you do to relax? Chances are, even though your work notifications are off, you’re plugged in to your computer or phone, checking social media, playing games, and texting friends.
A study completed in Sweden found that people, especially young people, who use technology excessively, are more likely to experience mental health problems and sleep disorders. The group that was studied, men and women ages 20-24, is already at higher risk for developing mental illnesses because their brains are still developing while being exposed to the new stresses of adulthood.
Try shutting off your technology a couple of hours before bed. Read a book (not a Kindle, unless it doesn’t have a backlight) if you need something to keep you from getting bored before bed.
Using Technology the Right Way
Technology doesn’t have to be a bad thing when it comes to mental health — it can actually be beneficial for a variety of reasons. For individuals who can’t make it to a doctor’s appointment, telemedicine enables them to talk to a medical professional without having to leave their home. Mental health apps can be used to encourage self-care, keep track of your moods, or even remind you to take your medications on time.
It also enables people to stay more connected though the use of social media sites — an essential tool when your busy schedule might not always mesh with your friend’s schedules.
You don’t need to live an Amish-like life, shunning all technology in favor of your cows and horses (though if that sounds appealing, more power to you). Just be mindful of your technology use and the impact that is could be having on your mental health.
For work or play, technology is probably always going to be a part of our lives. While it is a useful tool when used properly, like everything else in life, technology should be used in moderation to prevent it from creating or exacerbating mental health problems. If you’re not sleeping well, feeling depressed, or just stressed out, try unplugging for a while. You’ll be surprised how much better you feel, even if you’re only unplugging for a couple hours at a time.
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