How healthy is your information diet? Is it stressing you out?
We are all of course aware of diets for food, but what about diets for other aspects of our life, such as those that feed our emotional health? I wonder how many of us really think about the ‘obesity’ of information being thrown at us all day long and how much our brain is required to process. More specifically, how the instant message world of information we live in impacts our psychological health.
For people like me who live with a chronic health condition (dystonia in my case), stress is a big trigger for my symptoms to go haywire. I’m sure many of you can relate; even those who do not have a health issue. Stress can make us anxious, moody, short fused, sleep less, and so many other things.
It is so easy to hop on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, Snapchat, etc., and have an hour or more go by as if no time seemed to pass at all. All the while, receiving and sending text messages, watching television, talking to others in the room, and maybe even listening to music as well. We also have an endless number of TV stations from which to choose, and if you don’t have cable there are tons of streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, YouTube TV, and Sling TV, among many others. I get tired just thinking about it.
I often think how hard it must be for the younger generations that grow up with our current technology where they have rarely been exposed to delaying gratification, a very important tool to have throughout life to cope with difficult challenges and things not always going as we expect or plan. Because of smartphones, information and entertainment are just a click away. Now, probably more than ever, it is near impossible to find peace of mind, so much so that younger generations may not know what real peace of mind is, and sadly, the older generations are forgetting what it feels like.
Why is this such an important topic? Because when we look at the statistics, depression and anxiety are on the rise in all age groups, and research shows that there is a link to the over-consumption of information and the speed at which we receive it. One of the major factors with instant information is that the brain gets hits of dopamine more often than it is wired to handle. The problem with this is the rise and fall of emotions.
For example, if you post something on social media and it gets a lot of likes, shares, retweets, etc., and when you get a notification of a new message or comment, it makes us feel good. It is like being on a drug in terms of the pleasure centers of the brain that light up. It is also a similar response as Pavlov’s dogs that salivated at the sound of a bell because they were trained to get the reward of food.
This is one reason we keep the phone nearby all the time and why we check it so often; because it feels good. BUT, what happens when there is a slow day of activity in our social media circles? For many people, there is an empty, sad feeling. Worst case scenario is depression, which is all too common. When technology fails, we aren’t just inconvenienced. When technology goes down and slows down, life goes down. Relationships stop and laughter is silenced. Some of us don’t know what to do with ourselves. For more on this, please see my article called, How social media may fuel depression.
It’s no secret that most of us are addicted to our phones and they truly are very helpful. We have just become SO reliant on them for everything and let our brains turn to mud pies. “Phones” have become a source of transportation (Google Maps and rideshare apps), an online shopping center, an arcade, a dating service, and a source of connection. They are also a big source of disconnecting from ourselves and the real world, which can be a problem. I recognize that this is not a problem for everyone because lots of people feel better when they are away from their phones because of the peace and quiet. However, I think this is the exception and not the norm.
Most of us would do well to learn how to better, and more often, sit with ourselves in a place of peace, and let life take care of itself. But we feel the need to have our finger on the pulse all the time, and this can be a great source of anxiety. The ironic thing is that there really isn’t too much we are missing. We just have the illusion that we are because most of us are constantly on the lookout for new information and entertainment.
A study by Asurion, a global tech protection and support company, found that the average person struggles to go little more than 10 minutes without checking their phone. Of the 2,000 people surveyed, one in 10 check their phones on average once every four minutes. The survey found that 31 percent feel regular anxiety at any point when separated from their phone and 60 percent reported experiencing stress when their phone is off or out of reach. Just how crucial our phones are becoming comes in the revelation that 4 in 10 Americans would rather lose their voice for a day than lose their phone for 24 hours.
Other studies show that we check our phones on average 40-80 times a day. The higher number of use is for the younger generations, but the older generations are beginning to mirror these traits. While those ages 18 to 24 have the highest ownership of smartphones and usage, people 55 years and older have accounted for the strongest growth during the past two years.
We need to learn to disconnect to reconnect in a different way to be healthier. Our brain can’t process all the information we demand of it. I need to rephrase that; I think our brains are the real supercomputers and not computers or phones, but we do not train our brains as much as we used to because we have allowed them to become lazy because of technological advances where everything is done for us. As mentioned, anxiety and depression are on the rise, which to me is in large part due to the obesity of information we consume on a daily basis.
If you think your anxiety, depression and other moods are from an over-consumption of information or an addiction to your phone, begin making yourself only look at it a certain number of times of day and challenge yourself to leave it at home when you go out. It is hard and takes a lot of discipline, so start easy by leaving it in a different room in your house. If you go outside for a little while, leave it inside. On occasion, leave it at home when you go out for a short run of errands. See how it makes you feel.
If you are highly anxious when you do this, it is an indication that you may need a diet from your phone. I know for some of you, maybe a lot, that just the thought of not having the phone with you causes anxiety. If just the thought of it does this, that may indicate a bigger problem and more reason to put yourself on a diet. In a nutshell, we need find more things to do that do not require our phones. Find peace just being with yourself and those around you.
Tom Seaman is a Certified Professional Life Coach in the area of health and wellness, and author of the book, Diagnosis Dystonia: Navigating the Journey, a comprehensive resource for anyone suffering with any life challenge. He is also a motivational speaker, chronic pain and dystonia awareness advocate, health blogger, volunteer for the Dystonia Medical Research Foundation (DMRF) as a support group leader, and is a member and writer for Chronic Illness Bloggers Network, The Mighty, Patient Worthy, and The Wellness Universe. To learn more about Tom, get a copy of his book (also on Amazon), or schedule a free life coaching consult, visit www.tomseamancoaching.com. Follow him on Twitter @Dystoniabook1 and Instagram.