In today’s digitally driven society, most of us wander around with devices attached to us like another limb. And smartphones, YouTube, social media and other technology do have productive uses – they play an important role in our ability to stay connected, achieve overall wellness, and even learn how to build a Lego pancake maker. But they also come with serious drawbacks. There’s even evidence to suggest that devices – and their accompanying apps – are addictive.
Smartphones not only flood the brain’s pleasure center with feel-good chemicals like dopamine, they can also they distract you from important activities like driving and walking, explains Rachel Lee, M.D., a family medicine doctor at Henry Ford Health. “There are more car accidents, walking injuries and other incidents because people are so obsessed with their phones, they literally can’t put them down,” she says.
Perhaps equally important, cell phone technology can prevent us from being present in our lives. So while they might help us track everything from our mileage to our heart rate, they can also cause us to isolate. The end result: We miss out on real-world experiences.
Here, five ways to rein in a device addiction:
- Set boundaries. Sit down with your family and establish some limits. You might agree to make the kitchen table a screen-free zone, for example, or station phones in a centralized location (not in bedrooms) overnight. “And when you’re interacting with someone – whether over a meal or in a grocery store checkout line – agree to silence your cell phone,” Lee suggests.
- Use “airplane mode.” When you need a mental break throughout the day, take advantage of your phone’s “airplane mode.” Uninterrupted time is critical not only to ensure you complete tasks but also to unleash your creativity. Your brain needs time to think, ponder and plan. And you need some peace!
- Be safe. Put away your phone when you’re on the move. “Whether you’re driving, walking or just moving from point A to point B, looking at a phone when you’re mobile isn’t safe,” says Lee. Can’t resist the urge to review a text when you hear the signature chime? Put your phone out of reach (in a glove box, backpack or purse) and wait until you reach your destination to sneak a peek. On-the-go games and apps like Pokemon Go might encourage activity, but they could also cause you to run into to something.
- Fiddle with your settings. Turn off the notifications for your go-to apps like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. If you hear something chime, beep or otherwise blare, make sure it’s truly worthy of your attention – and that it’s a welcome (or at least necessary) distraction.
- Power down an hour before bedtime. Digital devices should be nowhere near your bed, Lee says. Instead, put your phone on airplane mode and leave it in a central location to recharge (like the kitchen or dining room). The blue light that emanates from digital devices, whether cell phones, laptops or TVs, can interfere with sleep and make you groggy during the day.
Most important, remember there is life beyond cell phones, tablets and laptops. “It’s good for your brain to be bored rather than consistently engaged and focusing on bright lights,” Lee says. “It’s like any other addiction, you need to learn to manage it.”
So instead of reaching for your phone, sit with your boredom, prop open a book or let your mind wander. And if you’re a parent, keep in mind that it’s your job to model healthy device use for your children. If they see you glued to your phone, chances are good, they’ll follow suit.
Dr. Rachel Lee is a family medicine doctor, seeing patients of all ages at Henry Ford Medical Center – Harbortown in Detroit.