In light of the recent changes over the past, it feels only appropriate to ponder how our addiction to technology is adversely impacting our mental health. If you find yourself spending your working day glancing from your phone to your computer and back again, you may have experienced overstimulation.
Balancing phone calls, screen time, text messages, and other stimuli can alter one’s thought process and behaviors significantly. Overstimulation impacts your ability to learn, establish social connections, and it also takes a toll on your emotional wellbeing.
Dr. Russ Poldrack, Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, found through his research that attempting to learn information whilst multitasking causes the new information to go to a part of the brain that is less effective at retrieving information on command. Overstimulation impacts your ability to remain mindful, on task, and focused on your intention.
Our attention is often divided between dispersed social networks and various sources of stimuli at any one time. This has had a dual impact of allowing us to maintain regular contact with close friends who may have relocated far away, but it also adversely impacts our ability to be attentive to the person across the dinner table. Often the person you are in close proximity to finds themselves competing with multiple sources of stimuli for your attention.
The compromise of the quality of your in-person interactions is only one facet of this social phenomenon. It is also important to consider the emotional strain of experiencing overstimulation on a personal level. Overstimulation impacts our ability to feel in control and fully process the world around us. This loss of control can often induce stress and can prove to be anxiety-provoking.
With this in mind, there are coping strategies to deescalate feelings of overstimulation and regain your sense of calm.
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Acknowledge when you are feeling overwhelmed, distracted, or feeling disoriented. These feelings can often lead to procrastination and difficulty staying on task.
If you can, leave your desk and go for a walk. This act is beneficial even if it is restricted to the indoors. However, walking outside or being in contact with nature is ideal. A brisk walk may be the single best activity for the body and mind. Even 10 or 15 minutes can have a marked impact on your outlook, especially if you can get outside. Bonus point if you stimulate your senses with new and interesting pathways you haven’t trekked before. Procedurally learned habits that are encoded in procedural memory can lead us to repeat the same behavioral patterns. This imprint can take the form of posture, gestures, physical movement, prosody, and even eye contact; by introducing new habits, you can bring a new sense of energy, optimism, and focus into your world.
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Give yourself permission to decompress. This involves allocating yourself at least 5 minutes to turn off your screens, closing your eyes, and becoming mindful of your breathing.
4. Use Resources
Apps such as Offtime (iOS, Android), Moment (iOS), BreakFree (iOS, Android), AppDetox (Android), and Stay on Task (Android); can be helpful if disconnecting is challenging.
6. Challenge Yourself
Ask a friend or partner to lunch or dinner and intentionally make an effort to switch off your device for the entire time. (If you are a Hipster, you may feel the impulse to take a picture of your meal and share it on social media before you switch it off). This will allow you to become more engaged in the conversation.
7. Implement a Digital Sundown
Reducing your exposure to screens before bedtime is an important part of the ‘winding down’ process at the end of the day. It is helpful to begin this practice with 5 minutes of a dedicated screen detox and slowly expand this time depending on your tolerance.