The Blog

4 Steps to an Electronics Break

Rather than going totally offline, small planned breaks can reap huge benefits without the stress of going cold turkey. The key seems to be in practicing mindful media use and making time for friends and family.
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

2016-02-02-1454453827-6711125-break.jpgNot so very long ago access to the world was not instantly available on a small, hand-held digital screen.

Calls were made during business hours. News was disseminated via newspapers or the nightly newscast.

Messages were written on message pads. Business was conducted using pen and paper, phone and mail.

No one was worried about missing a text, what someone's status was at any given time or how many "likes" they were getting.

Advances in digital technology changed all that.

Technology is a wonderful thing. It has thrown the doors to the world wide open! We are immediately and constantly connected -- and available.

Electronics use may even be psychologically beneficial when used judiciously. Researchers have found that for middle to older adults, Internet use and certain types of electronic activities stimulate complex brain activity. Keeping the brain engaged and active may help to preserve brain health and cognitive abilities. [1]

Also, online support has been found to be beneficial for individuals seeking emotional support and information. [2]

But with all this wonderful digital technology comes a downside. Being constantly connected takes a toll on our physical and emotional well-being. Overuse of electronics has been linked to rising rates of obesity, poor sleep, increased stress and neurological changes in the brain associated with impulse control, attention, emotional processing and cognitive functioning. [3]

In short, we're in a constant state of hyperarousal and it's exhausting!

For most of us, going totally off-line may not be an option, especially if we work in an industry that is highly dependent on electronic communication. The key is to make sure our electronics use is well-balanced.

Take Inventory

Self-monitoring is one of the most important tasks in changing behavior. It allows us to identify behaviors that we need to change. This information lays the foundation for setting realistic goals. In fact, study after study has shown that simply monitoring your behavior is a powerful intervention in itself.

Sometimes just increasing awareness of a behavior is the impetus for change. So grab a notebook and pay attention to your electronics use for a couple of days. You might be surprised by what you find.

Check It at the Door

Lying in bed reading text messages, surfing the Internet or watching videos might seem like a great way to unwind at the end of the day. Unfortunately, late night electronics use is also one of the biggest culprits when it comes to sleep problems.

Research has consistently found that the light from electronics, particularly blue light, disrupts the release of melatonin. This can lead to chronic sleep deprivation which can cause a whole host of problems including decreased attention, changes in mood, and health problems such as daytime fatigue, obesity and diabetes.

The easy fix is to stop using electronics an hour or two before bed. Use that time for winding down and preparing for sleep. Another option is to not bring phones, tablets and laptops into the bedroom. Check them at the door. Doing this sends a message to the brain that it is time to sleep.

Remember, you are changing a long-standing habit and that takes time.

Zone Out

More and more, research is pointing to the importance of taking breaks from activities and allowing the brain and body to relax. In fact, taking breaks in general seems to improve mental clarity, creativity and productivity. Planning your time puts you consciously in charge of how and when you use your devices.

Our lives are so connected that simply disconnecting for extended periods of time can wreak havoc and create more stress. What we CAN do is plan small breaks into our day so that we can step away and give our brain a chance to relax and recharge. We can take a walk, set specific times to check our email or return calls.

At home, we can set electronics-free times or no phone zones (think dinner table). There are even some apps out there to help. Remember, it doesn't have to be all or nothing. Small changes can yield huge benefits.

Get Some Face Time

If you're missing family and friend time, it might be wise to try some face time -- not the electronic kind. Emerging research suggests that electronic communication is changing the way people interact. More and more communication takes place via texts or instant messaging, eliminating the face-to-face aspect of communication and impacting social skills.

Limiting screen time gives you the opportunity to forge stronger connections with friends and family or engage in a favorite activity. Putting the cellphone down allows you to be present in the moment and enjoy the experience. It allows you to see (literally and figuratively) what the other person is communicating to you and it signals how important time with them is to you. Be there.

The Take Away On Electronics Breaks

The reality is that digital technology is a huge part of our daily lives. Electronics use is essential to many of our daily activities. Too much of a good thing, however, can be detrimental to our well-being and the research is clear.

Rather than going totally offline, small planned breaks can reap huge benefits without the stress of going cold turkey. The key seems to be in practicing mindful media use and making time for friends and family.

The only place we can start from is where we are. Mindfully put these steps into action. Be moderate in order to taste the joys of life in abundance.

1. Small, G., Moody, T., Siddarth, P., & Bookheimer, S. (2009). Your Brain on Google: Patterns of Cerebral Activation during Internet Searching. The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 17(2), 116-126.

2. Chen, A. (2014). What's in a virtual hug? A transdisciplinary review of methods in online health discussion forum research. Library & Information Science Research, 36(2), 120-130.

3. Lin, Fuchun, Yan Zhou, Yasong Du, Lindi Qin, Zhimin Zhao, Jianrong Xu, and Hao Lei. "Abnormal White Matter Integrity in Adolescents with Internet Addiction Disorder: ATract-Based Spatial Statistics Study." PloS One 7, no. 1 (2012).


Peter Field is a UK registered psychotherapist and board certified hypnotherapist. His hypnotherapy Birmingham and London clinics provide hypno-psychotherapy services for a wide range of issues. His extensive range self-hypnosis downloads are also available.