visited a tech company once in San Francisco, and I walked into a lunch area and saw everyone sitting on couches and at tables, all on their computers. I asked, “Is this the silent lunch room?” and was surprised when I was told no.
Far too often, I find myself on my phone or computer for most of my day - often missing the people and live events that are all around me. This is why it is important to do a complete “digital detox” – something I do at least a few times a year so that I can get back to just being.
More and more studies have been coming out showing the link between too much Internet usage and screen time and mental and mood disorders (like ADHD, anxiety, depression etc.). In a recent study, people who reported excessive Internet use also reported social anxiety disorders, loneliness, social isolation and lower quality of life. The study also showed that Internet addiction was associated with reduced immune function.
That’s right, too much Internet and screen time can actually make you sick!
Connected Online = Disconnected from Self
How is this possible? Your addiction to your screen prevents you from the habits that make you a healthier person. People who are addicted to their screens often live very sedentary lifestyles. They don’t make enough time for exercise, movement, community and play. These are important factors in achieving optimal health. People who habitually sit have as much risk of dying as people who have bad diets or smoke. Being sedentary also increases risk of cancer, heart disease and diabetes. If you think about it, sitting is the new smoking.
Also, more time in front of your screen means less time for face-to-face contact with other humans, which not only increases stress but also feelings of isolation and social anxiety. Too much FaceTime and Facebook, and not enough real face-to-face time.
Sleep Disrupting Screens
And there’s more. Too much screen time, especially before bed disrupts our circadian rhythms, affecting our hormones, our sleep and our energy. This artificial light coming from our screens delays melatonin secretion (needed for sleep); and we now know, that inadequate sleep can quickly sabotage our efforts at getting healthy and losing weight. Sleep is a major cornerstone for an energetic, joyful, healthy life.
One problem that’s been proven is that not getting enough sleep or getting poor-quality sleep adversely affects the hormones that make you hungry and store fat. One study found that just one partial night’s sleep could create insulin resistance. Ever wonder why you get bad carb and sugar cravings after sleep deprivation? This is why!
Other studies show that poor sleep contributes to cardiovascular disease, mood disorders, poor immune function and lower life expectancy. So, banish your phone from your bedroom or at least switch it to airplane mode.
Downtime Linked to Healthier Habits
So many of us are used to slaving away in front of our computers, pushing ourselves to get more work done and be more efficient. However, a Stanford University study found that creative output increased by an average of 60% in people who took regular walks. In fact, the more fun we have, the more we move, the more we get out in nature and away from our devices, the more productive we become and the healthier we are.
Attention and focus are hard to come by. Psychiatrists increasingly diagnose “adult attention deficit disorder” and prescribe Ritalin for grown-ups who can’t focus or pay attention. A lot of this is caused by our distraction by email and the ping of a new text message. Our bodies’ break down under the onslaught of stress – insomnia, anxiety, depression and all chronic disease are made worse by the unending stress from being constantly plugged in.
In order to manage all of this stress, we need to unplug and have fun. I love to incorporate play and fun in my daily life: horseback riding, playing basketball, biking, doing yoga, and decompressing with friends over a good meal. These are all things that keep me happy and allow me to recharge so I can perform well at all of my jobs - and I have a lot of them!
Play is not just for kids! It’s for adults, too. Playing gives us the chance to unplug, de-stress, find joy, challenge our brain in different ways and connect with new and old friends. It also keeps our immune systems healthy and elevates our energy level.
I know it sounds impossible, but I suggest you give it a try today. Here are my tips for unplugging for a successful digital detox:
1. First, use a timer. Commit to only a certain amount of screen time per day. I like to set a timer to stay focused on the task at hand and when the timer goes off, I get up, take a walk, stretch or take a yoga break. This keeps me from being sedentary even on days where I have to do a ton of work on the computer.
2. Next, silence your cell phone. Unplugging does not mean going for a walk while scrolling through Facebook and Instagram. Put your phone and your notifications on silent so that your unplugged time isn’t interrupted by noise. Carve out specific times to do emails, answer texts, do social media or surf the Internet, and leave blocks of time where your technology is turned off so you can focus, play, read or just be.
3. Next, quit TV. Try going without TV for a week. Television is a serious time suck that prevents us from doing things we actually love to do and it keeps us from accomplishing our goals. Quit TV for a week and watch how much more time you have to cook and stay active.
4. And, finally, when it comes to exercise, find something you love. When you don’t feel excited about going to the gym, Netflix and that game on your smart phone become very attractive. It’s important to find an activity that you love. You won’t find me at the gym. I love sports and adventurous activities that challenge my body and my mind. Find what works for you. Find something that you love so much, you’d rather do it than sit in front of a screen.
So now I want to hear from you. What are your favorite ways to unplug? Share below or on my Facebook page. If you liked this video, please share it on your social media. And, be sure to submit your questions to drhyman.com so that maybe next week I’ll make a house call to you.
Wishing you health and happiness,
Mark Hyman, MD.