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Digital Disruption: Managing the Technology Tax on Mental Health

Technology use is at an all-time high. This is hardly a shocking revelation. It seems difficult to even imagine a time when we couldn’t pull out a smart phone to do any number of things – connect with an overseas relative, listen to a podcast on our morning walk, quickly check tomorrow’s work schedule or weather forecast. There are so many benefits of this digital age. But troubling trends have also taken a firm foothold.

Mobile phone use is associated with a huge number of psychological issues. You are probably familiar with (or can guess) a number of them – poor sleep quality, strained social relationships, low mood, impaired coping abilities. But there are also more furtive and pervasive impacts than you may be aware of. For instance, when you sit down at your desk, or at a cafe with a friend, do you instinctively put your phone on the table? What you may not realise, is that simply having your phone in sight causes cognitive fatigue, impairs concentration and makes you more easily distractible – and that’s with your phone face down. This is quite disturbing.

So how do we limit the technology tax on our mental health? We don’t have to revert to landlines and dial up internet. We don’t have to give up technology entirely. But we do have to be sensible about how we use our devices. Here’s how.

Set limits on use

Technology is not inherently problematic. It is how we use technology that can cause issues. By creating boundaries, we can contain our use and minimise its negative psychological impact. There are many ways we can do this, ranging in stringency.

  • Establish how much time you want to spend on devices each day. Schedule this time into your diary, as you would any other meeting.

  • Set an alarm to remind you when it’s time to put down your phone for the day. This should be at least an hour before bedtime.

  • Turn off notifications – all of them. These are literally designed to pull your focus back to your device.

  • There is a feature that allows you to set time limits for apps. Use it. Have someone else set the password so you’re not tempted to override the limit when the time comes.

  • Remove distracting apps. Give your device a spring clean and leave only the most essential apps to avoid unnecessary distraction.

  • Do not allow your devices into the bedroom – more on this in a moment.

Protect your sleep

The importance of sleep cannot be understated. It is fundamental to our functioning, and yet, it is commonly compromised by our use of technology. We need to protect sleep. These basic strategies do so by moderating the disruption our devices cause.

  • Buy an alarm clock. Put your phone charger anywhere but the bedroom. You now have no reason to bring your phone into the bedroom.

  • Think of your bedroom as a device-free zone – and abide by the edict. Your bed is for sleep and sex, nothing else.

  • Turn off devices at least an hour before bedtime. This might mean finding new bedtime routines, like reading, having a relaxing bath or doing some gentle movement.

Understand habit cues

Most technology use is habitual. We repeat the behaviours regularly and often subconsciously. So how do we change these habits?

  • Identify habit cues (or ‘triggers’). Try to understand behaviour patterns within the context in which they occur – note things like time of day, physical environment and your emotional experiences.

  • Practice mindfulness. Observe your habit cues and your resulting impulses. Do so without judgment and without reacting to them.

  • Remove habit cues. Some triggers can be removed. If you use your phone a lot because you see it on your desk, remove the visual cue by putting your phone in your bag or another room.

  • Replace cue responses. Other triggers simply need a new reaction. If you use your phone because you feel tired, instead reach for a glass of water or go for a short walk around the block.

Don’t forget – technology is a big part of our daily lives, and we are not going to entirely overhaul our behaviours overnight. Be patient. Be kind to yourself. You will have setbacks – that’s normal. Just continue to chip away by implementing these strategies and striving for more sensible technology use. Your mental health will thank you for it.

If you have any questions, or would like to know more, please get in touch today.


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