Day in and day out our technology devices pummel us with information, notifications, and noise. Global stress, trauma, triggers, and pain are witnessed at mass scale in our feeds non-stop. Natural disasters, massacres, loss of human and civil rights, unabashed racism, bullying, government meltdown, genocide, animal extinction are all daily topics. We’re not designed to cope with this level of exposure and it’s taking its toll on our health and quality of life. We are no longer just surviving the risks of the physical world but surviving tech is a challenge in and of itself.
If you feel this way, this is a journey of discovery I’ve been on for many years. I’m a social media consultant, avid tech user, and college lecturer. I experience these effects firsthand, while guiding my clients, and educating students. The health impacts are varied: eye strain, posture related stress injuries, lack of sleep, inability to focus, anxiety, and much more.
Below are some health survival tactics I use and recommend when you are trying to reduce exposure to technology and its impact on your life.
Do you get headaches, neck aches, dry eyes or blurred vision? This is Computer Vision Syndrome (American Optometric Association) and it causes these issues and more. Use the 20-20-20 rule. Every 20 minutes, look 20 feet away for longer than 20 seconds.
The impact of light
Wavelengths of light and their colors have differing impacts on our health. Blue wavelengths boost attention, reaction times, and mood during the day but are disruptive to us at night. Your circadian rhythms are affected and this impacts your sleep. Shifting your circadian rhythms have been known to increase blood sugar levels to prediabetic state and decrease melatonin levels. Decreased sleep is a result of even low light at night and this is linked to increased risk of depression, diabetes, and cardiovascular problems. (Harvard studies)
Your computer and devices may have blue light blockers (Apple calls it Night Shift while Windows calls it Night Light). Adjust your display settings to minimize the blue light entering your sight. I have prescription eyeglasses with a blue light filter. You can also buy them just about everywhere you can get glasses, prescription and non.
Dock your device
My husband bought me a device dock as a gift years ago. It’s a power unit that allows multiple tech toys to be charged at once. We keep it in the kitchen as a central location for all tools. Having a public spot for devices gives a sense that the items doesn’t belong to you or on your body, that you put it away when you’re not using it. This also helps in the “search and monitor” role of parents.
Try plugging your phone in while you cook, watch tv, or sleep to create some distance. If you have kids, I suggest having everyone plug their phones in at night. It makes sure that no one is tempted to sneak a look at night and prevents sleep-texting. Yup, that’s just what it sounds like – texting in your sleep, an action many teenagers have no recollection of and which greatly impacts their sleep.
Full disclosure: we had to start putting my kid’s devices in our room at night. This means she’s not wandering into the kitchen to check her devices when she’s supposed to be sleeping. Parenting in 2019 is a full contact sport.
Turn off your device
Just like you need to sleep, so does your device. Whether it’s a computer, tablet, phone, or wearable – let it rest. You choose how long it will remain off. Try 20 minutes to begin and work your way up.
Put the object out of sight. Some people take digital sabbaticals where they remain unconnected for one day a week. This is up to you.
What to look for: I would find myself “circling the drain.” This is the activity of me bouncing between Facebook, Instagram, email, texts, jumping from notification to notification without actually making choices. I was on auto-pilot. If you recognize this behavior, you can break the pattern as soon as you notice you’re doing it.
Turn off notifications
Like many people, when I wake up I check my phone first thing. I’m looking for the time, if I missed any important communications, and what the weather is going to be for the day. I am frequently greeted with a negative or terrible notification from a news app.
One day I walked into a meeting in a yucky mood. I’d just seen a notification on my phone from a big news service about a horrible incident. I told my client about it and that I’d noticed the impact on my mood. I realized right then that I could simply turn them off. I did just that right there on the spot. The experience has been liberating. I still pick up my phone often enough to see the badges (# bubbles on the apps themselves) to know if I need to check something. Instructions for both iPhone and Android.
While you’re at it, adjust your sounds, ring tones, and vibrations to match what you actually prefer. Turn off the stuff that bugs you.
Grayscale is an accessibility feature for people with a visual impairment like color blindness. Apple is
hiding keeping this feature in Settings> General> Accessibility> Display Accommodations> Color Filters>Off>Grayscale Checked. I think they make it hard to find because they don’t want their users to disengage from the attractive colors.
How to go grayscale for Apple iOS devices. Android models differ but the setting is typically found in Settings>Accessibility.
Delete the app
I found that a news app I used during the election cycle got more and more desperate with their wording in notifications. It had been breaking news which then devolved into useless pieces of information. One day I’d had enough and simply deleted it off my phone. I can always get it back if I want to.
Health + Apps
I find it funny that we have apps to wind us up and apps to calm us down. I call these Health Positive or +. It really is best case scenario to unwind from tech away from tech but…baby steps. Whether it’s apps for yoga, meditation, white noise, sleep monitoring, exercise management, weight loss tracking, healthy eating apps can help us change and improve our behaviors. I even have some songs, playlists, and long form videos bookmarked for relaxing options. Whatever floats your relaxing boat.
Oops Leave it Behind
This is probably my favorite way to get a break from technology. I’ll go out to dinner or just be hanging out in my house and I forget where my phone is. For a second I feel panicky but then I go back to doing whatever it was and enjoy myself, phoneless and exposed to real experiences. Survival tactics indeed.