It’s part of our evolutionary development and survival instinct to have an interest in what’s happening around us, find ways to communicate, form social networks, and keep ourselves mentally stimulated. For many people, technology and internet-enabled devices such as mobile phones, tablets, computers and televisions play an important role in this respect, and the wide availability of such devices means that staying in touch with friends or keeping abreast of news and developments has never been easier.
However, there are an increasing number of anecdotal and research reports indicating that when used excessively, technology and internet devices can negatively impact our health and well-being, leaving us susceptible to mental health problems. If we don’t regulate how we engage with the likes of smartphones, computers and the various social media applications they employ, then rather than use them, they start to use us. This tends to draw us away from the present moment and leaves us little time to undertake activities that are truly restorative and that allow the mind to rest. Furthermore, in addition to disengaging from the people we love and what is happening around us, we run the risk of developing a behavioral addiction. Mobile phone addiction, internet addiction, social media addiction and work addiction are some obvious examples, which can result in long term health problems and seriously impair our capacity to enjoy life.
A potential downside of being so connected via technology, is that it can lock us into a cycle of being permanently distracted. A break from work corresponds to checking what’s happened on social media. Taking some down time means being glued to the television or a computer game. Sooner or later, there arrives a point where amidst so much choice in terms of the range of technology devices, apps and communication means at our disposal, we effectively become choiceless, driven by the need to be doing something. Being continuously distracted leaves limited opportunity for the heart and mind to grow. It makes it difficult for us to step back, breathe, and simply experience our existence.
How to Regulate Usage
In terms of protecting ourselves and finding an optimum level of usage, an important place to start is fostering an awareness of the risks associated with overusing technology and internet devices, as well as being honest with ourselves about current levels of engagement. This needs to be combined with a determination to prioritize taking care of our physical and mental health, including being proactive with regards to cultivating meaningful offline relationships, social interactions, interests and hobbies (including some hobbies or activities that involve being physically active). In addition to these more general wellbeing principles, the following three techniques are specifically intended to help us engage with technology and internet-enabled devices in a balanced and healthy manner:
1. Create a physical space of quiet and calm: The immediate environment in which we find ourselves can directly impact our mood and state of mind. Therefore, spending quality time in a dedicated space at home or work that is free from noisy distractions or technology devices can help us to relax and find equilibrium. This could be a quiet corner of a room or an entire area dedicated for relaxation or spending time with loved ones in a calm and meaningful manner. As much as possible, we should try to keep this space free of clutter and consider using plants, flowers, photos, pictures, garden views and relaxing music to help create the right ambient.
2. Go on a technology detox: Take a break from being plugged in by getting everyone in the household to agree to go on a technology detox at the same time for one day or at least half-a-day each week. This will help to reduce the risk of becoming dependent on technology and internet devices as well as increase the amount of quality time we spend with ourselves and those dear to us. It should also serve as a reminder to become aware of beautiful things unfolding in the offline world around us, such as the sound of a bird singing, somebody smiling, or a flower blossoming.
3. Stop and breathe: Regularly taking time throughout the day to stop and observe the breath can help us check in with ourselves, keep things in perspective, and calm the mind. Therefore, once during the morning, afternoon and evening, take five minutes to do nothing except focus your awareness on the natural flow of your in-breath and out-breath. Breath awareness helps to “tie” the mind to the present moment, which is the only place where we can truly experience and embrace life.