caitrian

Guest blogger: Caitrian Guthrie - CHSS Heart-E Project Manager

March 29, 2018

Digital danger! Do you need a digital detox? #unplugged

I am old enough to remember the days when the only phones we had were landlines, when multiple people in an office shared one computer (that was so large it took up half the desk space) and when the only webs encountered were those made by spiders. Now, as a fully paid-up member of the silver surfing club, I own a PC, a laptop, a mobile phone, a tablet and a Kindle - all of which I use frequently during the course of a day.

Recent figures suggest that UK adults spend an average of 8.5 hours per day in front of screens, including 2.5 hours on social media, and that they tap, swipe and click devices about 2,637 times a day… That’s a lot of tapping, swiping and clicking!

There’s no doubt that the advances in digital technology have changed the way we live, work and connect with the world around us, and that many of these advances have been positive.  However, for all the advantages that have been produced, it could be argued that there are an equal number of downsides. Look around the next time you are in a public space - how many of the people around you have their heads down and are looking at their mobile devices? How many of you sit with your family at night, mobile phone in hand, looking at Facebook or checking your Twitter account, instead of interacting directly with others? How many of you check your work emails at night, at weekends and when on holidays? Whilst there is, as yet, insufficient evidence to state that the use of digital technology can actually cause mental health issues, it is thought that there is a danger that routine overuse can affect our emotions and our ability to connect with those around us.

The term ‘nomophobia’ has been coined to describe a fear of being without a mobile phone, something many of us can probably identify with. A colleague and I recently took an online quiz to assess our level of mobile phone addiction and found that whilst my usage was giving ‘cause for concern’, hers was at such a level that psychological support was advised! Whilst the results of these types of quiz can be taken with a large pinch of salt, it certainly made us more aware of our behaviour and caused us to think a bit more about our mobile phone usage (…ironically we did the quiz on our mobile phones).

Going without mobile phones for any length of time may cause withdrawal symptoms including:

  • Restlessness
  • Anger/ irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Sleep problems
  • Craving access to phones or devices.

Any of these seem familiar to you?

By 2013, the use of digital technology was so widespread that ‘digital addiction’ was included in the Oxford English Dictionary for the first time. A digital addict is someone who compulsively uses digital technology and whose interaction with technology is verging on the obsessive. Entire websites are now devoted to helping and supporting people overcome their addiction. Those with an eye for commercial opportunities have set up summer camps and retreats for individuals who feel they need help with their addiction. For the majority of us, this level of intervention is not needed. In the true spirit of self-management, however, there are a number of suggested strategies that we can employ if we feel that our use of digital devices is excessive.

Tips for a digital “detox”:

  • Set parameters around when you can use your devices, for example, only between the hours of ‘x’ and ‘x’
  • Turn off your phone at certain times of the day
  • Don’t take your phone or tablet to bed
  • Replace your devices with other activities (I’ve taken to knitting in the evenings - you can’t knit and use a mobile or tablet at the same time!)
  • Play the ‘phone stack’ game when with your friends or having a meal. This involves everybody placing their phone in a pile in the middle of the table
  • Remove Facebook and other social media apps from your phone and only access them on your PC
  • Limit the number of times you check your phone
  • Stop feeling afraid that you are missing out on things if you don’t check your devices regularly.

Are you willing to give some of these a go? I will, if you will!

Image credit: keport

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***Disclaimer: always seek medical advice before starting a new diet, exercise regime or medication. The information in these articles is not a substitute for professional advice from a GP, registered dietitian or other health practitioner.

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