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Unplug to reconnect - The dangers of smartphone use, and what you can do about it

People using mobile phones

 I don’t know about you, but when I walk through town, eat food somewhere, or just observe myself, I notice that almost everybody has their head down mesmerised by their mobile phone. Sometimes I feel like I’m in a zombie movie, surrounded by hoards of people that are detached and distracted. It makes me feel sad and incredibly concerned that mobile devices have such a hold over people. In fairness, our phones now play such a big role in every day living and using them is going to be inevitable to an extent, but the dangers of smartphone use are well documented and smartphone addiction is very real and seems to be strengthening in many people, especially our youth.


A study from Kings college London (1) explains that if a young person becomes panicky or upset if denied access to their phone, then this could indicate an addiction. Apparently 23% of young people would be classified as having problematic smart phone usage.



Another, more recent study (2), explains that low self-esteem has a detrimental impact on smart phone addiction. This is true of most addictions; they are usually an attempt to self sooth. In the case of smart phone use and social media, whilst the dopamine reward system is activating (a trait of most addictions), a lot of the content in social media is further damaging to self-esteem, identity, and happiness. We can probably all relate to the feeling of seeing people that look happier, more attractive, and more well off than us on social media platforms. For young people who are still developing their sense of self, this can be disastrous.


Young child using a smart phone

Social Media also provides a false sense of networking and connection. Young people especially, need to be connected to peers, family, home, and school and of those that do have this connection are “66% less likely to experience health risk behaviours related to sexual health, substance use, and violence and to have better mental health in adulthood than less connected peers.” According to the BMJ (3). In the same study, which included over a million 15–16-year-olds, loneliness and smart phone use was directly correlated. Lets not even mention how utterly terrible technology is for 0-2 year olds. You know that high screen time for this age group can create symptoms similar to ADHD and autism?


Another issue around smart phone use is attention span. In a study (4), half the public said they felt like their attention span was shorter than it used to be and 47% say that “deep thinking” has become a thing of the past… This absolutely terrifies me. Where does this trajectory take us? Are we destined to become mindless automatons unable to think for ourselves or enjoy times of stillness? Perhaps the zombie movies were onto something?...


For me, it’s never been more important to get a handle on this because things only seem to be getting worse. The good news is that we all have a choice! We can choose to disconnect from the hyper stimulating world of instant news and flashy smart phones, it just takes a bit of work. Here are some suggestions to help:

 

1.      Meditation and Mindfulness: Practice mindfulness to bring your attention to the present moment, fostering a sense of calm and clarity.

2.      Reading: Immerse yourself in a good book to engage your mind in a different, more focused way.

3.      Yoga: As a yoga teacher in training, I can attest to its miraculous ability to sooth and restore.

4.      Play games: Board games are a great way to spend time with friends and family.

5.      Physical Exercise: Regular exercise not only boosts endorphins but also provides a natural and healthy way to release built-up tension and stress.

6.      Artistic Pursuits: Explore your creative side through activities like drawing, painting, or playing a musical instrument.

7.      Socializing Face-to-Face: Foster meaningful connections by spending quality time with friends and family without the distraction of screens.

8.      Outdoor Activities: Embrace activities like hiking, gardening, or simply taking a leisurely stroll to connect with the beauty of the natural world.


Or here's a random suggestion, try doing nothing, on purpose. This involves taking 5-10 minutes (don’t get too carried away at first, it’s harder than it sounds) to sit comfortably and observe. Just sit and notice what you notice. Breathe slowly and deliberately. Tap into your senses. Your mind will absolutely try to get involved – it’s used to being busy. If this happens just bring your attention back to your senses. What do you hear, see, smell, taste, feel?...



Person sitting quietly on the beach



There will be very little dopamine response to this exercise, it won’t necessarily make you feel good, but that’s the point. Slowing down, gaining more control involves unplugging from the intensity of life, from over stimulation and when you can wield this power, your nervous system will relax, and you will feel a deeper sense of connection and peace. Give it a try, you’ve nothing to lose.


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