For many, many months I have been advising my other half (which is completely different to nagging) to cut down on his screen time. As we embarked on our family holiday last month I suspected that I should do the same. Why? Because I am concerned about the damage our screens have on our wellbeing.
We have had an on-going debate about which of us is more addicted (clearly, it’s him) but whilst we were away, when no one was around, I found myself guiltily sneaking a look at emails, checking What’sApp, pressing the home button just in case.
As fate would have it, whilst we were away, I spotted the book ‘How To Break Up With Your Phone’ by Catherine Price, which I immediately bought and highly recommend. You need only read her contents page to realise the power these seemingly innocent devices have. ‘Your Phone Is Changing Your Brain’, ‘Your Phone Is Killing Your Attention Span’, ‘Your Phone Messes With Your Memory’. Here’s a little science to give you a bit more insight.
To start with, screens impair our sleep. Melatonin is a hormone responsible for regulating sleep patterns. If production of melatonin is disrupted, so is the quality of sleep and one of the biggest causes of reduced melatonin production is the blue light emitted from screens. You only need to read one of the numerous articles or pieces of research on the internet which tell us how detrimental insufficient sleep can be on our wellbeing.
Next, dopamine - otherwise known as the ‘reward’ chemical - it also helps with motor control and memory. When we anticipate and experience something positive, dopamine activates the pleasure centres in the brain. However, when we frequently repeat the same activity, this dopamine response ceases and if we stop that activity unexpectedly, dopamine levels fall. When this happens we can experience symptoms such as low mood, mood swings, apathy and tiredness, and reach out for sugary foods and caffeine to help us feel better.
How does this relate to our screens? Initial use means we experience a rise of dopamine, but frequent use means production halts. Yet if we suddenly stop using them our dopamine levels drop so we are drawn back to our screens again. Classic signs of addiction.
That’s before mentioning social media. In his TEDx talk, Why We’re Unhappy, Nat Ware (CEO of 180 Degrees Consulting) describes how our happiness can be affected by unrealistic expectations, we compare and despair. Social media fuels this as quite often what people portray is what they want the world to see which for the receiver may be unobtainable and make them feel inadequate (I’m also puzzled about the purpose of posting pictures of food on Instagram for all to see, I mean who wants ‘virtual’ food!).
Not to mention the dreadful impact of social media on young adults; anxiety, depression, low self-esteem and loneliness, which are covered in a report by the Royal Society of Public Health.
So, what can you do to change your relationship with your screens?
- Admit you might be addicted, awareness is half the battle.
- When appropriate switch your devices off, during work meetings and conference calls, at social occasions and at meal times. It will diminish the desire to keep checking them and responding to their constant beeping.
- When working on something, close all apps or messaging services which cause distraction and interrupt your train of thought.
- Create a screen routine. Ensure you have no screen time an hour before you go to bed (if not two) and an hour after you wake up.
- Give your dopamine a surge by setting yourself mini, achievable tasks during work, but make sure you celebrate when they’re done to get that dopamine hit.
- Look up. Wherever you are; on public transport, in a restaurant or café, at work or even on the street. What do you see people doing? Just because most of us do it doesn’t make it right, it makes it disturbing.
In truth, because I wasn’t on my phone all the time I didn’t think I was addicted. However, being away from my laptop was another thing altogether. I am now increasingly aware of my children persistently saying ‘Mummy’ when I’m finishing that all-important work email which, in truth, can easily be done tomorrow. So, a divorce it is. I am actively seeking limited custody of technology and information. Of course, I still want access, I just don’t want to be at the mercy of it.
If you want to take on the battle against screens, are feeling overwhelmed or want to take stock, then sign up to our ‘Wellbeing’ course or contact Laughology to book a session with one of our coaches.
Laura Drury began her professional career as a performer and trained at Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts. Her passion lay in theatre; particularly Shakespeare, comedy and farce. She always felt she had great comic... wait for it... timing!...