For years I have been reading, talking to professionals and studying how technology impacts the brain. From what I have gleaned I offer several suggestions to take back control for mental health professionals and their clients.
Reset Your Brain Often
There is ample evidence that technology and our busy lives overly stimulate our brains. There is also evidence that certain activities calm our brains. Attention Restoration Theory research shows that spending time in nature calms your brain activity. Mindful meditation works, as does exercise.
Other potential calming activities include taking a hot shower or bath, speaking a foreign language, listening to music, looking at art, laughing, talking to a friend or practicing a musical instrument. It only takes five to 10 minutes for the brain activity to reduce significantly.
This is not a new concept. Cigarette breaks and coffee breaks were designed to get us away from our desks to revitalize us and make us more productive. Nathaniel Kleitman, a pioneer in sleep research, suggested that just as our sleeping brains have 90-minute cycles so do our awake brains. He called this our Basic Rest and Activity Cycle and suggested that every 80 to 120 minutes our brains need a rest. Try a 10-minute break every hour-and-a-half to two hours and pick an activity that neuroscientists know calms brain activity.
Schedule technology breaks
Most of us carry our smartphones in our pockets or purses and rarely out of sight. I have noticed younger people carrying smartphones in their hands almost as extensions of their bodies. When I ask them why, they claim that they want to feel the vibration so that they don’t miss anything. Some call it FOMO or fear of missing out.
Others claim that we need to go on a technology detox to appreciate our life without technology. But I think that begs the issue. No matter how much fun you have over a weekend, you are still going to return to your world of email, Face-book, Twitter, text messages, Instagram, World of Warcraft and other electronic communication modalities.
I believe the solution is not to stop using the tools that are so valuable at providing connection and knowledge. The trick is to learn when to use them and when to put them aside. Technology breaks are one way to begin the process.
Such breaks start with giving yourself one minute to check all communication avenues and then closing their websites and apps. Set an alarm for 15 minutes and place your smartphone upside down in front of you. When it rings check again for one minute and keep practicing until you can increase the time to 20 or 30 minutes. Train people you connect with regularly that you may no longer be responding to messages like one of Pavlov’s dogs but will get back to them in 30 to 60 minutes.
Stow the smartphone at night
The blue light emitted from smartphones and other devices stimulates cortisol and represses melatonin making it more difficult to fall asleep and reducing sleep quality. The National Sleep Foundation recommends that you put away your devices an hour prior to bedtime. The Mayo Clinic says if you must use them, hold them 14 inches from your face and dim the brightness which allows melatonin to put you to sleep.
Plan evening activities that do not overstimulate your brain. Try some of the following: watch a familiar television program (perhaps even a repeat), listen to your favorite music with the volume lowered, read a paperback book by a familiar author or simply practice a simple meditation technique.
Metacognition is understanding how your mind or brain works. A metacognitive person has a clear idea of what activities are stimulating and what activities are calming. A metacognitive person knows that checking your email before you go to bed is not smart.
It’s important to learn what activities you personally find calming and relaxing and which ones overactivate your brain. You alone know the activities that are good and calming for your brain.
Larry Rosen, Ph.D., is a research psychologist and consultant to Calif-ornia State University, Dominguez Hills. He is an authority on the psychology of technology and has written many articles for The National Psychologist. His latest book is The Distracted Mind, co-authored with Adam Gazzaley, MD, Ph.D. (MIT Press, 2016). His website is: http://DrLarryRosen.com.