Hello friends, and welcome to this month’s Joyinmovement newsletter,
This month I’m writing about the big elephant in the room. You know, that topic that we don’t want to face up to, talk about, or do much about. Can you guess which topic I mean? It’s the ever-present and ever-increasing addiction to technology and devices. I’m not just going on a rant or writing to preach to you. I’m actually going to share with you the neurological reasons you are addicted, what you can do about it, tell you an easy way to save $48 by keeping your phone in your pocket………and then I’ll rant 🙂
Americans are obsessed with devices. The most recent findings from Pew Research showed 96% of Americans own a cell phone. Smartphones lead the pack with 85% of those people owning a smartphone. But of course a cell phone isn’t the only device Americans own. Most Americans own a laptop or desktop computer, an e-reader, or a tablet computer. Don’t think ownership favors the young. For seniors, 53% of people 65 and older have a smartphone. Almost 80% of people between 50 and 64 have a smartphone as well.
Have you ever wondered just HOW the addiction happens? As a health professional I’m forever curious about how neural pathways are created and how addiction happens. I’m sure by now you’ve heard of dopamine. It’s the neurotransmitter responsible for experiencing pleasure. Phones trigger the reward pathway in our brains through dopamine. When a cell phone user experiences the “likes,” images, and social interactions on phones, the ventral tegmental area (“VTA”) in the brain releases dopamine.
Dopamine triggers pathways in a few regions of the brain. It stimulates the prefrontal cortex, which is the area that controls attention. It also triggers responses in the areas responsible for motor functions and memory formation. Finally, dopamine also interacts with the amygdala. It’s the fear center of your brain. It sets off the fight or flight responses.
What’s the result waiting for you as the end effect and result of the neurological chain? A feeling of euphoria! You remember this along with what you did to trigger it, and naturally want to take those actions again and again. And if the feeling of euphoria wasn’t enough to get you hooked, how about this? A study from the University of Wisconsin at Madison found that using devices triggers the release of oxytocin. This chemical is called the “love hormone.” It makes you feel happy and secure. Not hard to understand why this is all so addictive, huh?
Am I saying never to use devices for fear of getting addicted? No, not at all. The problem with our phones is US, not them! We never turn them off. Our phones and therefore our brains are constantly ON. Author and psychotherapist Nancy Colier described our growing obsession with technology in her book, The Power of Off. She describes our need for “überavailability.” We have to always be ready and alert to answer that e-mail, see that text notification, or like that social media update. Does this sound like you?
Why Is Downtime So Important For Our Brains?
Our brains need downtime, a time out, time away, from all that noise and input. Downtime is essential. Living in that uberavailable state means living in a constant state of stress. Too much activity in ANY area of the reward pathway I described above leads to feelings of anxiety, depression, memory lapses, and an ever-shortening attention span. If you spend too much time on your phone, whether or not you admit it to yourself or anyone else, I know you can relate to what I’m talking about here.
From a brain benefit perspective, downtime allows us to consolidate information. Studies show that proper rest and even mundane distractions help us make better decisions. Why? When the brain rests it turns on a default mode network (“DMN”). This network connects areas of the brain and signals changes during a rest period. Putting your mind in “idle” for a while and daydreaming and letting your mind wander allows you to sort through events, create memories, form a sense of self, and invent creative solutions for problems. I don’t know about you but I feel this DMN effect when I’m in the shower. New ideas pop into my head and I come up with answers to questions coupled with great insights into all kinds of challenges I’m working through.
Putting our brains into “idle” also helps us develop critical problem-solving skills. Idle time also allows us to form memories. All of these goodies come to us if only we’d stop using our downtime for phone time and instead allow our brains to rest.
Ask yourself and answer honestly if it’s time for you to take a digital detox. I can’t imagine any one of us who couldn’t benefit from one.
Here are a few things to consider as you reclaim downtime:
• Get better sleep. Getting better, more restorative sleep always tops the list of self-care improvements. If you haven’t created a healthy sleep habit yet, start tonight.
• Track your time. If you’re not sure how much time you actually spend on your phone, start tracking it. There are many apps you can use to monitor phone time. You can, after all, just turn your phone off!
• Physically remove your phone. Keep your phone out of your bedroom. When you eat, put the phone in another room. Slowly develop these habits to physically do without your phone, even if it’s just for a short while each day.
• Spend time outdoors. Take a few minutes to enjoy nature. Just 20 minutes outside lowers your stress hormone, cortisol. Combine this with a walk and you’ll get your vitamin D and some exercise, too. Great for both body and brain health!
• Meditate. Even just meditating 10 minutes a day helps restore the balance of chemicals in the brain, including dopamine and cortisol.
Feeling brave? Consider doing your own “detox” program. Try going a week or a few weeks with no screens. If you have to use them to work, just make the rule to not use them when you’re not working. That means no phone, no TV, no tablets or e-readers, no computers. You’ll feel like you’re in withdrawal, as you would with going cold turkey from anything you’re addicted to. Think of all the extra time you’ll have to focus on other things. It will be good for you to actually see how much you miss all your devices. You just might surprise yourself!
I promised you a $48 savings tip, didn’t I? Well here you go! Next time you go shopping, keep your cell phone in your pocket and earn an extra $48. I found this study fascinating!
According to a new study from the Journal of Marketing, people who spend time on their phones while walking around a grocery store wind up spending about $24 to $48 more on groceries. That’s because distracting yourself with your phone makes you walk slower and visit aisles you normally avoid. Those aisles put lots of new products in front of you to impulse buy. And impulse buy you do! I would also suggest that those impulse buys add many calories and easily sidetrack a healthy eating plan. After all, who impulse buys spinach 🙂
I want to close out this month’s newsletter by speaking to you in Italian!
Eight years ago on a trip to Italy I learned the concept of “Il dolce far niente.” That Italian saying means “the sweetness of doing nothing.” When I came home from Italy I wrote Il dolce far niente on my white board to remind myself of how wonderful a feeling it was…….to do nothing. On a recent trip to Spain it made me sad to see so many people, many of whom were Americans, sitting at wonderful restaurants glued to their phones rather than taking the opportunity to unplug and practice being present.
Turning off my brain, relaxing, and doing nothing isn’t easy for me, but I do it anyway. I don’t use a smartphone, never have. Haven’t watched TV in years. I spend enough time as it is when I’m working looking at a screen so when I’m not working, looking at a screen is the last thing I want to do.
Do you have to be as device-less as I am to benefit? Nope, not at all. These are choices I’ve made that work really well for me. But I will say that you must recognize the effect that too much time engaging with devices has on your neurology, and thereby your whole life. Be honest with yourself, and if you need to, give yourself more idle brain time and see if you don’t feel better.
Until next month, enjoy your idle time!
P.S. Don’t miss my latest article on the one travel item every traveler should own!