Online usage has soared over the last number of years, and even more so during COVID. During this period many people have moved aspects of their lives online. People no longer are just searching for information, but are shopping, working, socialising, accessing a vast range of services, including medical consultations and health care services.
This increase of online activity, social media usage, and reliance on TV's, Laptops, Phones, Gaming Consoles, and a range of other devices has had a huge impact on the neurocircuitry of our human brains.
Multiple studies have found strong links between heavy online activity, compulsive usage of devices and social media engagement, with an increased risk of anxiety, depression, loneliness, hyperactivity, sleep disruption, irritability, self-harm, and even suicidal thoughts.
What can we do about this?
Everything that we do become a habit, and if you are looking at your phone enough, it will become a habit. To changes habit, we need to break those habitual cycles with replacement behaviours and better coping strategies.
Your brain is seeking reward, and will be invested in engaging in something that feels good. Start small and consistent, and begin with interrupting the old habit with the new habit you want to form. Habits are formed through repetition.If you find that you are constantly picking up your phone every time an add comes on tv, or there is a pause in conversation, put your out of reach of your hand. Maybe put it in a different room so that you have to get up and move to get the phone. Turn off some of your notifications, Delete some of your apps. Ask yourself, is this adding to my life?
Watching too much TV or Gaming? Perhaps make a deal with yourself before you watch TV or turn on that Gaming Console, put a time limit on how long you are going to spend. Perhaps you might set yourself a timer to help. Consider what you will do after the time is up: what else are you interested in? walking, reading, baking, listening or moving / dancing to music, spending time with your children, a pet, friends, gardening, stretching?
Everyone has to start somewhere. Be consistent, and most importantly, is follow through.
Finally, give your brain, eyes, and body a rest from the screens, be new, be you, with a digital detox.
Carol Duffy, Psychotherapist.