The power of disconnecting
by Sarah Woolner
Our world has become remarkably digitalised. There is a smartphone app for just about anything and the majority of our communications occur via electronic devices and digital mediums. We are constantly connected with the world with a ginormous amount of information that we can retrieve at the touch of a button. There is no doubt that these technological advances provide many benefits, however, what impact is it having on our health?
Connectivity, stress, and anxiety
We are living in a society that is “always connected”. We receive work emails, social media notifications, and messages at all hours. Instead of racking our brains for the name of that song, we use an app to identify it. Rather than exploring a city and running the risk of getting lost, we google map it and go via the fastest route. We are processing massive amounts of digital information on a daily basis and we eventually reach a point of information overload – our brains just cannot cope. As a result, our overloaded brains struggle with cognitive function, problem-solving and decision-making. When information overload becomes chronic, levels of stress and anxiety increase, further impeding brain function.
Electronic devices, social media, and sleep
What’s the last thing you are doing before falling asleep and the first thing you are doing in the morning when you wake? Like most of us, you are probably scrolling through your social media feeds and checking your unread messages or notifications. You may not have even realised that this has become a night time and/or morning routine, but it is definitely one to consider changing.
Use of electronic devices and social media at night has been associated with increased sleep disturbance and dysregulation of circadian rhythms. Exposure to the LED light emitted from the screens of our electronic devices delays the release of our major sleep hormone melatonin and decreases sleepiness. Time spent scrolling through your feeds and watching videos can also directly displace sleep time, particularly as the perception of time whilst on social media is often distorted. Arousal levels are likely to increase as your brain is busily processing all of the images, comments, and notifications as you are scrolling through your feed.
Disconnect. Power-down. Unplug.
Disconnecting from the online world and powering down your electronic devices is incredibly difficult for most of us. Initially, it may even exacerbate stress and anxiety levels. However, regularly “unplugging” allows for your brain to be idle and stimulates creative thinking. Powering-down the brain also allows some space to recalibrate, essentially improving cognition, productivity and ability to make good decisions. Good quality sleep is also a key component for restoring optimal brain function.
So what exactly should you do when you “disconnect”?
Spend your time doing something brings you joy or simply just do nothing at all. Getting back to nature is a great way to unwind and calm the nervous system.
Tips on disconnecting
- Set specific time limits for checking social media.
- Turn off all unnecessary notifications.
- Create a night-time routine that doesn’t involve any electronic devices – spend your time reading, drawing, painting, journaling or brew a lovely pot of herbal tea.
- Keep electronic devices (including your smartphone) out of your bedroom.
- Switch your phone to airplane mode when spending time in nature to minimise distractions and disruptions.
- Start slow. Gradually build up the amount of time that you are “disconnecting” for, particularly if it feels uncomfortable at first. Consistency is the key.