We all love our mod cons. But what is our ‘always on’ tech doing to our physical and mental health? And what can we do about it?
The swipe of a screen or the touch of a button. Technology sure makes our life easier these days. But it also risks pushing us towards a lifestyle that can do more harm than good to our bodies, and our brains.
Let’s consider first your smart phone. You’d be lost without it, right? Not just for texting, calling and messaging friends and contacts, but also for music, entertainment, news, banking on the go, shopping, or whatever online pursuit you fancy.
The trouble, of course, is that because your phone does so much for you, you can end up doing very little for yourself. The constant attention it often demands can also be to the detriment of ‘real life’ too, leaving us too sedentary for too long. And we all know what sitting down staring at a screen for hours on end can do when it comes to our health and wellbeing.
Aches and pains
Whereas in the past it was always television that was seen as the opium of the masses, now it is our phones, tablets and computers. And with them come a whole new range of potential health problems.
For starters, Text Neck is now officially a term for the repetitive stress injury caused by excessive texting on handheld devices. Our bodies are not designed for looking down for long periods of time it seems, although the risks can easily be reduced simply by holding your device at eye level instead.
Other conditions can become more debilitating, however, including Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS) - persistent headaches and blurry eyes from too much screen time – obesity, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS), and New Zealand’s single biggest killer, heart disease.1 And that’s not to mention the mental issues that overuse of devices can promote.
As humans, we depend on face-to-face social interaction more than we might credit. Unfortunately, as we definitely do know, more and more of our waking hours are now spent staring at a screen instead, which can be a problem.
That’s because face-to-face conversations aren’t just socially rewarding, they’re hugely beneficial for our brains too. In fact one recent study found that even just 10 minutes of actual conversation a day can result in improved memory and cognition.2 And for anyone still wondering, no – online video calls do not count.
Add to this that many of us are now working from home (pandemic or no), and thus starved of the opportunities to mingle at work as often as before, and you begin to see where we’re headed. Modern life can indeed be bad for us, if we let it.
So what can we do about it? Simple answer, spend less time on our screens and more time with ourselves, our families and our friends. With this in mind, here are some of our top tips for reducing the adverse effects modern life can have on your physical and mental health:
1) Stop the constant check
Can’t help taking a look at the latest buzz from your phone? You’re not alone. Sometimes it’s tough to do at any time of day, but the constant need to know can also result in higher stress levels3. So try to make times during your day to completely ignore any emails, texts or notifications you might receive, and stop trying to cover off everything at once.
2) Ease up on social
Social media is part and parcel of our lives, and a great way to keep up with family, friends and the world. However, remember that people are always tempted only to put the best versions of themselves online, which can leave you feeling your life isn’t as interesting or fulfilled. So ease up on the angst, focus on you instead, and give social media a swerve occasionally.
3) Digital detox
One step further still. Studies show that while many of us truly believe that unplugging or disconnecting from our devices for a while – a digital detox – would be good for our mental health, very few of us actually follow through on the idea. Over-use of social media especially has also been linked to feelings of loneliness and depression.4 Shut them down by pressing the off button more often. You don’t need to be connected 24/7.
4) Take time to unwind
We all need to refresh and recharge regularly, otherwise the fast pace of modern life can leave us feeling overwhelmed. Listening to music, breathing and meditation, taking a little nap, going for a walk or even taking a long soak – all are proven ways to help us kick back, wind down and put life in perspective - before we jump back in.
5) Create healthier habits
Eat, sleep and exercise. The three main physical factors of wellbeing should never be underestimated, and are inextricably linked to our overall mental health. If you can, try to identify areas of your life that could do with improvement. Could you eat healthier for example, hit the gym a little more, or set yourself up with a better sleep routine? Creating better habits now, could help you prevent serious health problems further down the line.
To conclude, there is no silver bullet to cope with the pressures of modern life. But if we rely on our own smartness – rather than that of our phones – we can start to reap the benefits of a healthier modern lifestyle.
Previous article: ‘ The silent threat of modern life’