By Doc Mok
Stop Looking at your screen
I realize that right now YOU are looking at this on a cell, tablet or computer. I too am writing this on a computer and looking at a screen. Yet with long days, wearing tight masks, distant from those we love, it is time to drop the device and unplug.
Technology is not a bad thing. As a result, we are able to communicate with loved ones all over the globe, at all hours. You can go onto blogs made by medical professionals (wink) and get the information you need to be an optimal human. The downside is that we have lost our connection to the outside world and community.
The first step with unplugging is noticing
If you live in a city, look up while you are walking down the street. How many people that you pass are staring down at their phones and not those around them? While you are driving, safely notice if you pass a driver texting or on their cell, not looking at the road. People we a glued to and addicted to tech.
Well, so what?!? Why do I care?? Because the benefits are resounding. Let’s take a journey together and share in the world outside technology in order to reconnect with the world and people around us.
The Role of Dopamine in Electronic Addiction
There is a scientific reason for gravitation toward devices called dopamine. Dopamine is a neurohormone produced by the hypothalamus and responsible for many things, one being the reward system. This is termed the mesolimbic system, associated with all input-rewards. Directly tied to this system are addictions and fears associated with technology. In fact, there are psychopathologies associated with technology compulsion.
Have you ever been afraid of leaving the house without your device? This is termed nomophobia. What about fear of not receiving texts: textaphrenia? Ever felt vibrations from your phone that were not there: phantom vibrations? These newly created psychological terms are all related to your chemical dependence on tech.
Dopamine is like a jolt of euphoria
During technological stimulus, push notification, text, social media, etc., your body will send dopamine to your limbic system and see this stimulus as a reward. Essentially, you get a hit of dopamine, boosting your mood. Your body then desires this enhancement and seeks more dopamine to satiate this craving for more positive stimulus. As the cycle repeats, your mind builds a habit, leaving you desiring reward from the signal. This leads to phone checking, downloading more apps to send signals, and a spiral toward dependence.
We have established that technology is truly addictive. To prove this concept, researchers have performed perfusion imaging of the brain for people receiving messages on their phone. What they found is that when the people in the study received text messages the dopamine signals in the brain lit up on imaging. These areas of the brain signaling dopamine are what create addiction and similar response is seem to other addictive substances.
However, the punches do not stop there. Not only is technology addictive, but it also can affect your sleep.
Light is Composed of Colors and Your Brain Can Detect Them
As discussed in our multi-part articles on sleep (LINK HERE for Why you Sleep, High Yield Sleep Strategies, 3 Things to Avoid with Sleep), there exist multiple types of light. By definition all light contains multiple colors within it. A way to prove this is by placing a refracting glass up to the light in question and seeing if you get a rainbow.
Small cells in the back of your eye called cones sense the color of light. You also have rods that sense the presence or absence of light. Both cells share similarity with those inside of the pineal gland, which controls the sleep-wake cycle or circadian rhythm.
However, certain forms of light tend to contain more of one dominant color or the other. Two of the most basic forms include orange light and blue light. Think of these two light colors as opposites.
The Blue Light Emitted from Devices Interferes with Sleep
Orange light is most commonly found in organic light sources such as the sun. On the other hand, blue light is emitted from technological devices like your screen. Blue light, received by your rods and cones, sends a signal to your brain that it is time to be awake. Therefore, if you keep staring at your screen, without blue light blocking, you will have a hard time falling asleep.
As sleep is vital to recovery, mood, body composition, prevention of neurodegenerative disease, heart health, etc, we should embrace and reclaim this valuable past time. Unplugging is a low hanging fruit to reclaiming the restorative powers of sleep. Now onto how to do it.
How to Unplug
Start simple. Create space between you and the devices. As an example, no devices at the dinner table. Leave them in a basket on a far-away surface. This will prevent you from looking at them and to engage your dinner partner(s), building community. Prior to bed, avoid screen time. Again, place your phone outside your reach, such as away from the room you sleep in. If you need your phone next to you in bed (like when I am on call for emergencies), just place it face down or don’t look at prior to or while you are in bed.
You may also want to avoid dual device interactions. Meaning, you are watching that new streaming program and on your phone at the same time. In this case, are you really interested in that show if you are also on your phone looking at social media?? If you are dual devicing, place your phone down and away from you. You may also want to stop watching that show, because you aren’t paying attention. Shut the TV show off, put something else on, read a book or do something else.
Now that you have limited your device work, let’s re-acclimate back into the natural world. If you live in nature or have easy access to green space, this will make life easier. Prior to diving into that, let’s discuss the modern urban/suburban conundrum.
Your Trip to and From Work is in a Bubble
On your ride to work, just open the window. Opening the window will allow you to breath in clean air and feel more connected to the surrounding world, rather than your carbon-fiber bubble.
Obviously, I don’t want you to do that if it is -20 degrees Fahrenheit outside, but you get my point. Do it as much as you can. Trust me, it feels great!
When you get home go outside and play. Stand outside barefoot and sink those paws into the dirt. Sit and read, meditate or just stare at the clouds for just 5-10 minutes. Go for a walk, hike, run or bike around your neighborhood. Just go out for 5-10 minutes. Trust me, it will get rid of the post-work doldrums.
Next Level Unplugging Tactics
Okay, you have burst through your hermetically sealed bubble, so let’s talk about one the biggest joys in life…vacation.
Work hard and play hard. It is fun to sit on a beach, sip daiquiris and eat our faces off, but from a health perspective, you will return feeling worse. I am writing this while returning from a guy-friend trip, where we hiked, stayed in a cabin, made a fire each night and stepped foot in the beautiful Rocky Mountains. Prior to that, my spouse and I went hiking from Monument Valley, Utah (where almost all the western movies are shot) to Las Vegas. There was no cell service most of the time, we will get to that.
Though it is hard to imagine going from working hard at your profession to working hard outside, I am almost certain that you are reading this to better yourself as a human being. Working hard outside on your vacation gives you a sense of self-accomplishment, gets you unplugged and gets you to push boundaries. We hiked places where we saw no other humans for hours. It was calm, peaceful and the most beautiful things we can find are in nature right!
With my job you are tethered to an inbox, phone/pager always. People can reach you at any hour and often do. Getting away allowed me to completely unplug from those mistaken contacts, because if you have no cell service, you cannot get called. If you have no wifi, you cannot check your email. Let’s be honest, in the absence of an ill loved one, most things can wait for an hour or two.
Detox from your devices! Though you are battling rods, cones, pineal glands and addictive physiology it is worth it. Look up at the world around you, while you are walking, going to work or on vacation. Plan trips to explore new areas of the world and be in nature. Don’t stare at the screens while you are at dinner, in bed or away from work. Go outside and play again!