Digital distraction: tips for staying truly connected

How distracted are you? Do you have good device-use “manners”? Have you ever texted at the dinner table? Answered an inconsequential text/email disrupting an otherwise enjoyable conversation? Do you turn to technology to relieve anxiety? Has this behaviour become so habitual you hardly notice?

Our brains work in such a way that we temporarily feel relief and pleasure when we check our email or answer a text, but end up getting more anxious afterwards. If my experience is anything to go by, we don’t really end up feeling more connected – which presumably is one of the desired feelings we’re after. 

The truth is isolation and disconnection are an epidemic in our society. The cause I would argue for most addictions, anxiety disorders and depression. (A Psychologist named Bruce Alexander looks “beyond the brain” and to society in this interview about addiction). Yet technology is meant to facilitate connection. So what’s going wrong here?Alone_in_crowd

I’d say it’s because of inappropriate and overuse of technology, in combination with deficits in real connections between people, and a lack of sense of belonging more broadly. As well, there is a lack of guidance and cultural norms/dialogue about healthy use, it’s all new stuff we’re dealing with.

Some facts about technology-use and health

  • Those who are constantly accessible via cell phones are most likely to report mental health issues.
  • Heavy cell phone use increases sleep disorders in men and increases depressive symptoms in both men and women. 
  • Regular, late night computer use is associated with sleep disorders, stress and depressive symptoms in both men and women. 
  • A combination of both heavy computer use and heavy mobile use makes the associations even stronger. (source)

Tips for staying truly connected

Healthy device-use habits – some suggestions

  1. Talk during meals – no devices
  2. Turn off devices 1 hr before bed
  3. Turn off devices 1 day/week
  4. Make a technology use policy for yourself, or with your partner/family. Write it up and frame it somewhere in your front hall and encourage guests to follow along too. You might inspire them to make their own. 
  5. Learn self-regulation skills if you struggle with addiction or anxiety. Teach these to any kids in your life: the ability to regulate your nervous system must be learned in childhood. Self-regulation is correlated with life success more than any other factor. 

Connection-building skills

Practice some connection-building skills with your partner, family and friends.friendship

  1. This could be as basic as really listening. Really listening means being present and having the intention to focus on the person you are speaking with and nothing else.
    You can help yourself do this by slowing down, breathing and relaxing as you listen. Put your own agenda aside and be curious about what they are saying. What they are communicating beneath the words? Slow down, relax before and during your response. Consider – is it necessary to respond now? What is a useful response?
  2. Or try reflective listening – either casually with a friend, or as a specific dialogue
    practice with someone close to you. Here’s one simple one, and one more indepth one for couples.
  3. With a partner – try breathing together: when lying together or holding each other, have your noses close, one person breaths in while the other breaths out so you can feel their breath on your face. Try this for a few minutes and see what you notice.
  4. If you’re feeling stressed asked your partner to put their hands on your shoulders or feet and be silent and breathe with you for a few moments to help you calm down.
  5. Take quiet connection moments with an animal in your life. 
  6. Go for a walk in nature without your device. Take it in. This is your home!

family distractionIf you’re interested in a great presentation on technology and kids for parents/caregivers, check this out from Ross Laird in Vancouver. 

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