Did you know that we spend as many hours using our smartphones each day as we do sleeping? It’s true—and it’s stressing us out.
According to a Nielsen report on media usage, we spend a whopping 43 percent of each day using a digital device and nearly 28 percent of each day on our smartphones alone. (For comparison, we spend about 30 percent of each day asleep.) Unfortunately, studies have shown that this increase in tech usage directly links to a surge in anxiety, stress, and even depression.
Now, here’s the good news: You don’t have to throw your smartphone out a window to avoid these pitfalls. Nor should you! After all, when used correctly, technology helps us stay organized and informed in both our personal and professional lives. The key is to be mindful of how you engage with the digital world so that you’re the one running your devices, not vice versa. Keep reading for three simple ways to unplug from tech-induced anxiety:
1. Pull the Plug on Disconnection
Studies show that we receive most of our social cues in person (eye contact, posture, etc.), and these cues lead to better communication and stronger relationships. As the proportion of our online interactions increases, however, our basic people skills suffer. The result? Research suggests that we are a staggering 40 percent less empathetic now than we were 30 years ago. This decline in empathy makes it harder for us to connect with others, which leaves us even more vulnerable to stress.
Here’s How: Connect IRL
Micro-affirmations—small, positive social interactions—help combat this disconnection, set the stage for more meaningful relationships, and can even trigger a domino effect of positivity in others. Here are some ideas to try:
- Give a genuine compliment to a co-worker or friend.
- Start conversations with eye contact and a smile.
- When you’re with others, turn off notifications and silence your phone.
- Send a loved one an unexpected “thinking of you” card.
- Greet people before you launch into a request. A simple “How are you?” or “Good morning!” can go a long way.
2. Allow Your Mind to Power Down
Electronic devices allow us to stay constantly connected to our jobs, no matter where we are or what we’re doing. This easy access may be convenient, but it makes it difficult to truly disconnect—and can lead to burnout. Think about it: How many times have your attempts to relax been sabotaged by a restless worry that you’re missing messages from work? Until you give your mind full permission to cut ties with tech, you’ll feel distracted by its demands.
Here’s How: Check Your (Thought) Feed
When you’re working to disconnect, first check in with your thoughts. Confront your Iceberg Beliefs (deeply-held, primarily subconscious ideas about how the world “should” work) around achievement. For example, do you feel like you always need to be “on” or you’ll look like a slacker? Then, challenge that belief with a realistic reframe, such as “Establishing boundaries between work and home makes it possible for me to be my best self.”
Note: Every organization is different and only you know what’s right for you, but if your supervisor regularly pings you on the weekend or after work hours, consider initiating an in-person conversation to get clear on their expectations.
3. Press Pause on Your Impulses
Technology can be addicting…literally. A study from the University of California, Los Angeles found that getting a virtual “like” produces the same feeling you experience when you eat your favorite candy or win a raffle prize by triggering the release of the chemical dopamine—the same “feel good” chemical that makes it harder for people to resist an alcoholic drink or a cigarette. Tech companies capitalize on this by using variable reward schedules, which are designed to engage your brain like a slot machine that repeatedly hooks you back in.
Here’s How: Refresh Your Routine
First, interrupt those dopamine hits by creating clear boundaries around where and when you use electronic devices: Designate certain rooms in the home or certain times of day as device-free zones. Then, retrain your brain by changing your habits. For example, read a book before bed instead of checking your email. Sooner or later, this new habit will replace the old, and you’ll automatically reach for your book—rather than your phone—when it comes time to wind down. Your brain is a creature of habit, but you get to decide what those habits are. You owe it to yourself to unplug—and reconnect—on your own terms.
Elior Moskowitz is the Content Coordinator at meQuilibrium. A frequent Cup of Calm contributor, she also writes for various major business journals and lifestyle publications. Elior holds a B.A. in Psychology and English, with special training in both positive psychology and mental health counseling.