Today, most of us are tethered to our devices – both physically and mentally. In fact, those of us who have grown up with cellphones have actually developed regions in our brain that keep track of where our cells are at all times…just as you would with a limb. While this might sound scary, there are lots of ways we can create healthy boundaries with our tech. We’re going to dive into the WHY behind how taking a break from scrolling is one of the simplest ways to elevate your physical and mental health, as well as some practical ways to hit pause.
1. Stretch your eyes
When we’re looking down at our device, we are tilting the head in an unnatural position for extended periods of time. Our gaze is focused and zoned in. In our natural state, we are looking over the horizon, keeping an eye out for threats and quite literally stretching our eyes. Taking in wide landscapes has a calming effect for this reason…we feel safe. In contrast, when we narrow our vision to a screen, it puts us in a sympathetic (fight or flight) state.
Practice: Consider putting your phone away when you’re out for a walk to reap the benefits of expanding your vision. When working for extended periods on a computer, get up once an hour and hone your vision on something far away from you – the ocean, a faraway building, can be anything that takes your vision wide and far. This will instantly soothe your nervous system.
2. You’ll breathe better
For most of us, when we’re focused on scrolling, our mouth is open and our breath shallow – we take about 20 breaths per minute, when ideally we are breathing 10-15 (or less!) breaths per cycle. Mouth breathing has its own host of negative effects – from increased cavity formation to decreased oxygen intake (which leads to fatigue) to decreased memory retention.
Similarly, slowing down our breath cadence supports Heart Rate Variability (HRV – our ability to regulate our stress response), allows us to fully oxygenate our blood, shifts us from a sympathetic to parasympathetic state, and allows us to stretch out the fascia that lines our ribs and properly engage our diaphragm.
Practice: What if instead of scrolling in the bathroom, while waiting in the grocery cue, while waiting for your coffee, the bus, etc., you instead took an opportunity to practice a simple box breath technique – inhale for 4, hold for 4, exhale for 4 and hold empty for 4 – all through the nose. This simple shift in habit can have a profound impact on your energy levels, vitality, and ability to create calm and ease for yourself. Nose breathing also produces more nitric oxide than mouth breathing, which is anti-viral and helps kill off air-born pathogens that enter through our nasal passage.
3. Less artificial light
Most of us know that we want to keep blue light exposure to a minimum after sunset, as it tricks our brains into thinking it’s high noon which suppresses melatonin. We need melatonin release to lull us into a state for quality sleep. What is less well-known, however, is that blue light exposure can actually increase our blood glucose and insulin. Blood glucose regulation is a key pillar in weight and mood management. And, if you go back to basics, our bodies are intelligently designed to flow with the sun rising and setting…injecting blue light all day into our sleeping hours confuses the body and throws off this finely tuned system, throwing our hormones out of whack like leptin (which controls fullness), cortisol (which induces inflammation when released in excess), and serotonin (our happy hormone).
Practice: Add a red filter to your phone to remove the blue artificial light. Here is a video on how to change your settings for an iPhone. For your laptop, download the app f.lux so that blue light is removed upon sunset (or apply settings to remove it all day!) Another option? Add a blue blocking filter to your glasses and put them on after 6pm (all major Opticians will offer this for an additional fee), or you can purchase blue blocker glasses that boast a red lens (warning: wearing these makes you an official biohacker).
4. We can regulate our dopamine response
Our devices are designed to play with our dopamine system, which is why technology can be so addictive. While those notifications or likes may “feel” like a positive rush or make you feel good, over time this can throw off our pain & pleasure response, which makes us essentially less receptive to pleasure and joy. Not ideal! It’s also no coincidence that your laptop and cell phone boast the same lux as slot machines…a proven system that evokes addictive behaviour. While taking pause from these little bursts of dopamine can feel uncomfortable at first, the long term reward is worth the temporary withdrawal.
Practice: Silence your notifications on the apps you find yourself the most tethered to – Instagram, TikTok, imessage, etc. Have your default mode be “do not disturb” to avoid any pings in your pocket or on your desk. Get in the habit of putting your phone away for every meal, or if that’s not an option, put it facing down so you’re not distracted or tempted to watch for those rewarding pings.
Finally, a feature we love to check regularly is our weekly screen time. Track your weekly screen time for a month, find your average, and challenge yourself to reduce it by 15 minutes each week. Slow and steady wins the race!
By integrating these practices, you may begin to notice your whole world shifting. You’ll be sleeping better, having fewer headaches, breathing better, feeling more calm and at ease, feeling less addicted to your phone, feeling more pleasure, more present in conversation and at meals, and ultimately having a sense of connectivity to your natural state. More sunlight, less artificial light. More stretching of the eyes, less scrolling with a furrowed brow.
Happy digital detoxing :) We’re all in it together!