It is obvious we live in an incredibly connected, high-tech age… I mean, when else in time have folks been able to place a grocery order through an app on their smartphone and have them delivered by the end of the day? While this technology we have access to is nothing short of life-changing (It enables me to do this work, connecting with YOU all over the world!), it can either be a tool used to enhance our lives, or a stressor that causes our bodies harm. I don’t believe that technology itself is good or bad, but we can choose to develop good or bad habits about how we use these new technologies.
First, the good. I have personally used these new technologies on my road to recovery with autoimmune disease, and countless tasks have been made easier and more convenient by using programs and apps on my iPhone. Here are some of the ways I’ve used it and other devices on my wellness journey, both past and present:
- Setting alarms and reminders for health-supportive habits (like meditation breaks, a deadline for amber glasses, when I should be starting my bedtime routine, or when I should be taking time-sensitive supplements)
- Researching ingredients online before eating or purchasing a food while out and about
- Tracking symptoms and/or food/supplement intake to be later correlated with progress
- Connecting and sharing with others with autoimmune disease on social media
- Listening to podcasts to expand my knowledge of health, fitness, and nutrition
- Testing my heart rate variability to assess fatigue and stress levels
- Tracking the amount of steps I’ve walked per day to meet my movement goals
- Meal planning, list making, and looking up recipes online
- Using apps for specific goals (like AICS symptom tracker, D Minder, Calm, and Real Plans)
- Journaling and writing about my experiences
Unfortunately, the way our brains are wired combined with the way a lot of these tools have been designed to work (or, get us addicted…) can cause us to get caught up in a cycle leaving us feeling mindless, anxious, and inducing a state of panic. Although it might not be obvious, the psychological stress that these technologies cause us can have wide repercussions, especially for our autoimmune bodies. When used without a mindful approach, they can impact our sleep, our relationships, our stress levels, our focus, our productivity, and our peace of mind.
I’ll be the first to admit that I have struggled off and on with being in this unhealthy territory with technology. When it is bad, it is really bad — I feel the urge to check my email and social media accounts upwards of 15 times per day, and it seriously impacts my stress levels as well as my sleep. Recently, I’ve been in a much better place, having come to the deep realization that all of the “checking” does not bring any positive benefits into my life. The biggest change since coming to this realization is just that I am not on social media as much anymore — I realized that if I was not going to be present in my experience, it wasn’t worth the time. As a result, I have been making more of an effort to talk on the phone and hang out in person with those I love, instead of letting a superficial online relationship suffice. My connections with others feel much deeper and stronger, and the focus, peace of mind, and improved sleep I’ve found has been totally worth keeping up with this task!
If you are feeling a little stressed by your current relationship with technology, I wanted to share some of my biggest tips so you can get some peace, too!
Don’t feed the “checking demon”.
Do you grab your phone to quickly scan the news, email, or social media every time you have a few spare moments in your day? Constant “checking” wires our brains to go after more of the same, especially when we are “rewarded” by finding something new — perhaps an email in our inbox, reading an interesting headline, or finding some likes or comments on Facebook. If you give in to this drive, you are literally training yourself to crave these little check-ins throughout your day.
This is a big trouble spot for me, and I combat it by only having specific times of day I allow myself to “check in” on social media and the news. For instance, I check Facebook after I have read and replied to all of my emails, about mid-morning, and then I resist the urge to go back periodically throughout the day, or worse, keep a tab open on my computer while I am working on something else (I totally NEVER do that anymore, promise!). I have also deleted the Facebook and messenger apps from my phone, electing to only use the site when I am at a desktop computer, which really curbs my usage.
Another big tip here — turn off those darn notifications! Nothing feeds the checking demon more than your phone constantly beeping to present you with a new like or comment (and sucking your attention from anything else you are doing!). I’ve even gone as far as turning my sound and vibrate off for text messages — those in my life know to call me if they need to get ahold of me immediately (and if they didn’t know, now they do!).
Be present instead of mindless when using social media.
What are your intentions when you jump to online — are you sharing something, maybe a photo, or a message, or interacting with your friends and other connections? Or are you just mindlessly scrolling, trying to fill some time, without having any meaningful interactions?
I try to avoid using social media when I am “not in the mood” or don’t have have time to interact and participate with my family, friends, and connections. For instance, I love taking a leisurely scroll of Instagram, being able to watch videos, write thoughtful comments, and get inspired by the creations I see. When I don’t give myself the time to let everything sink in, it doesn’t do anything for me besides causing FOMO (fear of missing out).
Try only going on social media when you feel like you have the time and mental space to have some meaningful interactions. If you are just looking for a mindless distraction, it might be better to try something like meditation or heck, just succumb to being bored. It isn’t healthy for our brains to be constantly active — a little mental “buffer” is sometimes just what we need!
Don’t let your devices or habits disturb your sleep.
Keep your phone outside your bedroom at night, and use a separate alarm (or use it being in a separate room as incentive to actually get out of bed!). Consider putting your devices on “do not disturb” for sleeping hours. If you are worried about emergencies, many devices allow you to create an exceptions rule, like a second ring, or placing callers on a certain list that can still get through. This can be exceptionally helpful, if you are like me and dip into bed at 8PM… no risk of your night-owl friends and family (or worse, telemarketers!) startling you out of bed just as you are drifting off to sleep with a non-urgent message.
The second part of this recommendation has to do with your habits. If you can manage, avoid checking email or scrolling social media first thing in the morning, as well as last thing before bed. Checking before bed can fill your brain with work tasks, bad news, or other worries without the opportunity to do something about them (a great setup for not being able to fall asleep!). Checking in the morning “primes” you to want to check continually throughout your day, and robs you of that often peaceful morning time (especially when you get a stressful or unexpected email from work, before you are in the office to deal with it).
Lastly, it is important to avoid screens two hours before bed, to avoid disrupting your circadian rhythm. You can read more about that in this post.
The increasing ways we are connected lull us into thinking that we can do more than one thing at once — with sometimes dangerous consequences. Even though it should go without saying, using devices while driving is incredibly risky and causes more and more auto accidents every year (despite this, people still choose to do it — just DON’T!).
Although it isn’t nearly as dangerous, many people use their devices while eating meals, watching TV, or while interacting with other people. Not only does this affect the way our brains work (like not allowing digestion to happen properly because of stimulation from a news headline), but it can have a huge impact on both our social lives and our productivity at work.
Following this recommendation might look like never texting while driving (you were doing that anyways, right?), not using your device while in public (like walking or in line at the post office) unless you need it for a task, not using your device while talking to another person (this includes moments like the checkout line at the grocery store), or not using your device while eating. It also means not having any social media or email running “in the background” while you are working (my biggest vice in this section!).
Avoid replacing in-person social activity with online connection.
You might feel like using social media is a replacement for talking to your friends and family on the phone, or meeting up with them in person. While it is a tool you can use to keep connected, it is hard to maintain a real relationship with another person only using social media.
Try to use social media to enhance your social life, not as the sole vehicle of your social life. Even if you are using social media to connect with other people in the AIP community, you will get a lot more support and benefit from joining a local group and going to an event to meet others in your area. In the end, excessive time on social media can take from the precious time we have to have in-person experiences with those we love.
Take a periodic technology detox.
Taking a break from your devices and the online world for as little as a weekend can show you the role it plays in your life — for better, or for worse. Extended breaks for weeks, or even a month at a time can really help put things in perspective (like, how hungry your “checking demon” really is! Do you really want to know?).
I aim to take one month-long detox per year, with mini week-long stints as needed. I also try to go every weekend without working online or using social media, since I am so connected for my job. My favorite time to disconnect is when I am traveling, especially when I am in the outdoors or the wilderness. Since nothing distracts me from my present experience more than that little piece of technology in my pocket, I choose to turn it off and fully experience the beauty of the world without distraction.
What are your favorite tips for living mindfully with technology? Do you practice any of the above habits on a regular basis?