Unplug, Unwind, Unbelievable
By Michelle Slates, OTA/L
Are you willing to engage in a summer challenge that will make you feel unbelievable? No, I’m not talking about completing a level 6 whitewater rafting adventure or zip lining through the treetops! Simply unplug. Unplug from what? Technology, of course.
We have become a society that is fixated on using smartphones and computers. Most of us need to use technology for our jobs. Or to legitimately search for important information. But how much time do you spend mindlessly scrolling or searching? What could you do instead of scrolling to make you feel unbelievable?
On average we interact with our phones 2,000 or more times a day. We spend an average of 2 hours daily on social media. That adds up to an obscene amount of time (daily/weekly/monthly/yearly). If you’re not sure exactly how much time you spend on your device it will even tell you! You can see how much time you spend on individual apps, email, texting, etc.
“Emerging scientific evidence indicates that frequent digital technology use has a significant impact—both negative and positive—on brain function and behavior. Potential harmful effects of extensive screen time and technology use can include heightened attention-deficit symptoms, impaired emotional and social intelligence, technology addiction, social isolation, impaired brain development, and disrupted sleep.
Multiple studies have drawn a link between computer use or extensive screen time (eg, watching television, playing video games) and symptoms of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).” (JAMA 2019).
Using our devices involves the ability to shift between different settings. Our brains have been trained to quickly shift focus. We have rewired our brains to constantly need quick input from our environment. When we don’t get that quick input, we lose focus, get frustrated and move on. Have you ever noticed you simply can’t concentrate on reading a simple paragraph, have difficulty following a conversation, or get easily frustrated when people around you are moving slowly?
It’s time to unwind and focus on your interoception sense. Interoception is inner body awareness, such as breathing, heart rate, hunger, thirst, and fatigue. When we are inundated with external stimuli on our devices, people talking, music playing, flashing lights in a short time frame, our brain can’t fully process that information. We lose touch with our interoception sense by those distractions. The ability to sit and be still is a valuable skill that takes practice and requires you to put down that device.
How can we effectively set boundaries for technology use? You could go “cold turkey” and delete the apps that are consuming your time. Or if that is too drastic, set a time limit. Maybe after 8:00 pm turn off your device. Incorporate house rules for using devices (no devices at the dinner table). Accountability is greater if everyone in the house or your friends are taking the challenge with you.
Make a list of all the things you could do if you weren’t on your device. With longer days in the summer, it’s a perfect time to challenge yourself. Find a replacement activity to fill the void you created from limiting or having no technology. Fill that time with walks, finding a new hiking trail, or biking the towpath. Look through a cookbook and try a new recipe on your grill. Dust off the board games or cards. Connect with friends, actually call a friend rather than text. Set a goal to learn new skills.
Commit to setting boundaries with your device. Focus on engaging in the life before you and be present. Enjoy your life instead of reading about someone else’s. In fact, you might find that when you commit to being in the moment, you don’t miss checking your device for emails, posts, and texts. You will notice your physical health improving, decreased eye, neck and back strain.
Taking a break from social media will improve your mental health. You realize what is being portrayed is not accurate – oh those filters, no one has wrinkles in the Instagram world! Most importantly, unplugging will reduce your stress. Your brain and body need to recover after a day of work and using technology. It is not healthy for your mind, body and spirit to be “on” 24/7.
Here is your summer challenge.
(1) Set your technology boundaries.
(2) Make a list of activities you can do rather than be on your device.
(3) Engage your family and/or friends in the challenge with you.
(4) Be cognizant of how you feel when you’re “unplugged.”
(5) Enjoy your new found freedom from technology. I bet you will feel unbelievable with all you can accomplish when you simply unplug.