Take a Time Out from Technology
Imagine an American from 100 years ago found themselves in your town today. What do you think would most surprise them? The number of cars? Giant grocery stores? Heart surgery? In my mind, that 100-year-old American would be most surprised by the technology we use every day. We depend on our phones, laptops, PCs, iPads, and smartwatches for information, games, and communication. But sometimes there can be too much of a good thing. Today’s technology is so easily accessible that the desire to check our devices may sometimes border on compulsive – with so many apps, games, news sources, and social media at our fingertips, we may find ourselves paying more attention to our devices than to other parts of our lives.
If you’re one of those people who spends more time with their technology than they would like, you might be interested in the National Day of Unplugging, Beginning at sundown on March 4, the National Day of Unplugging is a 24 hour period that is a time to step away from technology and focus on the important people and things in our lives.
Why should we unplug?
A recent survey showed that 75% of Americans spend anywhere from 3 – 10 hours a day on a device. 48% spend 5 or more hours looking at a screen, while 13% spend 10 hours or more. On average, Americans check their phones 46 times per day. Among young adults 18-24, that number jumps to 74 times per day. And spending so much time online can have mental health consequences:
- Lower self esteem. Sometimes, it’s hard to remember that people are sharing carefully chosen pieces of their lives. We look at their smiling faces in a new job, on a fancy vacation, or around a holiday table and wonder why our lives aren’t so amazing (Hint: their lives aren’t always that amazing, either!)
- Fear of missing out (FOMO). Closely related to lower self esteem is FOMO. FOMO makes us anxious that interesting, exciting, and important things are happening and we aren’t involved. It can often lead us to engage more on social media than we would otherwise.
- Isolation. Research shows that young adults with high social media use tend to feel more socially isolated than their peers.
- Cyberbullying. Cyberbullying is increasing dramatically. One survey showed that 37% of young people between the ages of 12 – 17 have been bullied online. Among LGBTQI kids, that number rises to 50%. And it’s not just youth – another study showed that 41% of Americans have experienced online harassment, such as bullying, sexual harassment, or stalking.
Tips to help you unplug
Taking a break from social media can improve your mental health. Here are some suggestions for ways to unplug.
- Put your phone in a box for 24 hours. If you’re going to take the plunge and completely stay away from electronics for a day, putting your phone in a box might help you resist the temptation to peek or post. Out of sight, out of mind!
- Turn off notifications for any non-critical apps you use, consider deleting the apps from your phone altogether. Sure, having your phone remind you of a doctor’s appointment is important. But do you really need to know every time something new is on Instagram? A study at Florida State University showed that just receiving a notification was as distracting to the students in the study as actually using the phone.
- Get more active. Regular exercise is important for both your physical and mental health. Blocking out some time for exercise is a great way to step away from tech for a while.
- Find a new hobby. There are plenty of hobbies that don’t require an internet connection. Fishing, knitting, and gardening will all get you involved in something that’s offline. A family and friends game night can get you away from your phone and engaged with people you really care about.
- Don’t bring your phone to bed. Did you know that 58% of us check our phones in bed? Research shows that people who look at the blue light from electronics in the hour before bedtime take longer to fall asleep, get less deep sleep, and are less alert the next morning.
- Create family rules around using electronics. For example, make it a rule that no one uses their phone during dinner. You might even turn this into a contest, where everyone puts their phone in the center of the table and whoever picks it up first does the dishes.
Writen by Cindy Maxim
Sources: National Today, AKHealth, DoSomething, Pewresearch, Psychologytoday, Pnas
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