Watch your digital habits!
With Covid-19 virus sweeping the globe many of us are facing lengthy periods of self isolation either through potential illness or government lock downs. This has seen a surge in smartphone use as we seek some boredom relief through in cyber world with our digital friends, surfing the internet and checking in on social media accounts. Netflix and online gaming sites have, at times, become overloaded with demand.
There has been some wonderful short clips on twitter and Instagram of people using their phones to take short clips of soccer players juggling toilet rolls, the music and singing in Italy and the fitness instructor on a rooftop in Spain highlight some of the positive ways we can use technology to entertain ourselves and keep positive.
Whilst our use of technology has its positive side we do need to be mindful of how we use technology as it does have a dark side and it knows exactly how to provoke us. The current shopping trend to panic buy is partly driven by social media as shoppers whip up some panic buying by posting shots of the last remaining stock items. FOMO kicks in (or should I say FOMOTT fear of missing out on toilet tissue!), anxiety levels shoot up and our natural instincts for survival set us off in a panic buying frenzy. Anxiety and stress levels start to rise.
There is a saying that you are what you eat and in digital terms you are what you consume. If your daily news feed is full of distress and anguish you will soon be consumed by this. The media knows how to push our buttons and will use impact words to catch our attention and create a headline. The worse the better, disaster and catastrophe have far more impact than unfortunate mishap or great damage.
Whilst the seriousness of the virus should not be understatement, neither should we underestimate the ability of the media make us even more anxious. Consume lots of negative news headlines just before you go to bed will go a long way to ensuring a poor nights sleep. That can make your stress and anxiety levels rise even more.
This is not helpful as stress and anxiety can trigger our flight-or-fight stress response. This releases a flood of chemicals and hormones, like adrenaline, into our systems which can weaken our immune system, leaving us more vulnerable to viral infections and frequent illnesses.
We are all dealing with some pretty big changes at personal levels at the moment. Our normal daily routines have become totally disrupted in such a short space of time, its quite unbelievable. Change is never easy, even when its your idea, but when the change forced its even harder. So it is not surprising that so many are finding their stress and anxiety levels close to breaking point.
Head in the Screen
Excessive internet use will only serve to increase our stress and anxiety levels. There’s a good few who will lose their heads into the screen and become a digital ostrich, but it doesn’t change anything. You’ll get dopamine kick for short while then when you leave the screen you realise very little has changed and so you begin the cycle of escape again, each time a little longer than before.
This cycle of events starts to impact on our ability to make decisions, procrastination sets in, we become frustrated and angry as we neglect parts of our life. It’s also a way we hide or ignore some of life’s events that we find difficult to deal with.
We have very little control over what is happening around the world at the moment. The only thing we have control over is our response. We can chose to procrastinate and hide in the screen or we can find new ways to respond rather than react. Lock up is a good time to investigate how we live as most of us operate in autopilot. If we look closely at our habits we may see why we react rather than respond when there is crisis.
Home Environment Habits
If you are in lock down or isolation your home environment is a vital area that is so often overlooked. We learn from our social and physical environments and they have a major influence on our habits. Habits form through the process of repeating an action over a given period of time. Some habits are useful, some are not.
Our physical environment provides us with cues to maintain certain habits. For example, many people sleep with their phone next to their bed. As soon as they wake up the cue to check their phone is in front of them. Be mindful, that what you consume first thing in the morning can often determine your mood for the rest of the day.
Those that wake up during the night to check messages find it difficult to enter a restful sleep pattern again as they are starting to program themselves to wake up during the night and check their phone. This is a common problem with heavy digital consumers who sleep with their phone next to them. Poor sleep patterns causes stress and anxiety, which impacts on our overall health.
Take note of your technology habits, identify the cues and remove them or replace with a new non techies habit. Easy, probably not, but at least you what you have to do!
For example don’t sleep with the phone next to your bed. Place the phone in another room or at least other side of the bedroom out of sight and on silent. That way you remove the temptation to pick up the phone first thing in the morning or even worse during the night.
Spending long periods of time gaming will also impact on your mental and physical well being. Gamer’s often find nice quiet rooms to isolate themselves. Placing the computer in the living area where there is lots of people traffic makes it difficult to do this and helps to break that habit. If that’s not possible then set a timer on your phone or computer that will go off after a certain time.
What about those who work from home and now have the children at home as well. Seems like the perfect storm!
If you have the space keep set areas for set routines. For example, I only watch movies or TV shows in the lounge when I want to chill out for awhile. I take news or connect to social media via my phone and use this in the living area. If possible I read or watch more than one news source so I can judge the accuracy of the news. My laptop is for work only and I have set aside a small study area for this. I have removed all links to news or social media such as Facebook from my laptop to ensure I stick to this habit.
You will need some willpower to do this but willpower only last for so long and it is far better to arrange your environment so your technology habits are not in view or difficult to maintain. Children should also have their time online restricted just as they are schools.
If you are working from home then you will need to establish a working routine as quickly as possible. Removing distractions will help and setting routines to only access personal emails of social media at set times during the day. It takes on average 23 minutes to return to your task after checking your emails or messages. Do that 4 times an hour you have achieved nothing for work. Don’t think your boss will be to impressed that work rate!
Our environment is also influenced by those around us. If you share your house with family or friends who are continuously distracted online you will more than likely join in with their habits. That is why I recommend family technology rules. Get the whole household involved rather than just one person.
Set your routines for the day, write them down and place them where you can view them and stick to them. If you have children at home they will need your attention during the day so build in some time for them. Here is a link to a more detailed plan of how to create your day working from home by Avni Patel Thompson the founder and CEO of Modern Village.
There will be resistance, but start small choose an area for one particular use or set a time when you access certain things e.g. 6 till 7pm news for example. As you build your new routines and technology habits you will start to influence others to follow you.
To be mindful does not mean you have to sit and meditate for hours a day, although that would help, its not for everyone (including me!).
I like to think of mindfulness as simply “the practice of maintaining a non-judgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis”. Put simply its about being aware of and controlling your experience. We cannot stop our thoughts but we can control our reaction to those thoughts. Next time you reach for the phone ask yourself why? Are you reacting or responding?
Many of us either spend time worrying about what may happen in the future or ruminating about events of the past. We are rarely present in the current moment, which is, funny enough, the only time we have.
Mindfulness is a very simple way to pull yourself back to the present moment through a range of exercises, mostly concentrating on breathing. Try it for yourself now. Put a timer on for one minute, leave the computer alone and concentrate for one 1 minute on your breathing.
Now focus on your breath as you take it in through the nostril and out of either the mouth of nose (mouth is normally better, but which ever is best for you). As your mind wanders, let the thoughts go, whatever they are don’t dwell on them, just return to your breathing. Its incredibly relaxing and restores your ability to respond rather than react.
The great thing about mindfulness is you don’t have to sit and meditate. When you consider the average person takes between 20 to 30,000 breaths a day we have plenty of opportunity to concentrate on some of them! Remember the main aim is to stop the mind rumination. Here are 3 simple ways to help.
Ancient Indian Holy men and women were originally pilgrims who wandered the land. In order to maintain their daily meditations they developed the walking meditation. Walking rhythmic and anything with a rhythm has hypnotic values used in meditation.
You can easily adapt this to your walking habits anywhere, from the supermarket, to walking the dog or even walking around the home. Count your steps or breaths as you walk. I normally count to 8 then start again but you can change this to your own preference. As you walk, fine tune your attention to parts of your body that maybe feeling stressed, neck and shoulder are common areas, and try to relax this part of your body.
Breathing whilst you exercise on the gym similar to Yoga. In the gym you are working your body so you are already in tune with the present. Repetitive exercise has that hypnotic value as you concentrate on relaxing muscles. Tense muscles in the gym put you at risk of injury. My favorite is the exercise bike, the rhythmic nature is perfect for some mindful meditation whilst I exercise.
Pay attention to what you are doing
We do so much in auto pilot fussing over the future or the past, rarely present in the moment. You can change this by simply paying attention to what you are doing and being aware of your senses. Enjoy your food and drink. By that I mean actually become aware of the taste and smell. If you are with others listen to understand, rather than listen to reply. Even doing the housework can actually become a mindful meditation practice if you concentrate on the task in hand.
Whats the Mindful point?
I mentioned earlier the constant use of the internet actually strengthens the part of the brain, the amygdala, that makes us more reactive (The fight or flight mode). Whilst weakening the part of the brain where we do our reasoning and decision making, the frontal lobe.
When we react to an event we have about a fraction of a second before the brain registers that move. Its how we use that fraction of a second that makes all the difference. Reacting to a situation means we have limited choice e.g. fight or flight, causes our stress levels to rise as the body tenses for danger. Respond with thought gives you more options reducing stress levels as you become aware the danger may not be as serious as you first thought. Mindfulness restores the balance in favour of the frontal lobe and allows us to respond to events rather that react, helping to reduce stress and anxiety levels.
Its a simple process that restores some control in our lives, improves our empathy and social ability that the smartphone so often erodes.
The smartphone gives us the ability to connect with anyone, anywhere at anytime and as many of us are feeling increasingly isolated the attraction to connect with loved ones is too good to miss. I know I would not want to miss those connections with my son but at the same time I am mindful of the fact that it is a digital connection which is artificially disconnected by a click of button.
Research has shown that peoples feelings after that click to terminated has been made can leave them feeling even more isolated because it was a virtual connection not physical. That can prompt us to overuse the internet in search of the feel good factor we lost and begin the cycle of events that leads to ‘heads in the screen’.
Be mindful, we all use the internet its a major part of life now, the trick is to be aware of that and give your mind some rest to restore and strengthen the frontal lobe. You’ll feel better for it and remember current events will not last forever. Set up your new routines and connect a little more with yourself and ride out the storm.
Enjoy your digital breathing space…