Ten Tips for Having a Healthy Relationship with Information Technology

The subject of managing the barrage of information fired at us from our devices was one that came up in a discussion with a friend recently while we were out on a walk and it keeps coming up in my mind, so I thought it would be a good one to explore here. The internet also happens to be the theme of Men's Health Week (12th-18th June 2023) this year. I will start by looking at some of the negative impacts of information technology (IT) on health & wellbeing and finish with ideas for maintaining a healthy relationship with it.

Our devices can have many adverse impacts on our health and wellbeing, including mental health, productivity, relationships and sleep. Frequent checking of social media feeds and the internet can cause anxiety by shifting our focus from the task in hand and overwhelming us with information. As anxiety expert Wendy Suzuki says,“ We are surrounded by too much information to filter and too much stimulation to relax.” Comparing ourselves unfavourably with those we see online can lead to low self esteem, and over exposure to negative messaging can cause or aggravate depression.

Rangan Chatterjee makes a sobering observation in The Stress Solution “...Dan Nixon, a senior executive at the bank of England, went public recently, saying he was worried that digital disruptions were having a significant impact on our productivity… Studies confirm that when we complete a task but are distracted while doing it we perform it with an IQ that is ten points lower than if we had performed it without distractions. That loss of IQ is the same as the loss from missing a night’s sleep. Without phones at our sides we are going through our entire lives less intelligently than we might be.”

Studies have shown that just having a phone at a dining table even if you are not using it, can negatively impact the quality of the social interaction over a meal. That is why some restaurants are now offering a 10% discount to customers who stow their phones in a designated holder for the duration of their visit.

IT can negatively impact sleep in two ways: blue light exposure in the evening and mental stimulation. As Sachin Panda explains in The Circadian Code, “Staring at most screens at mid- to high brightness introduces more blue light to our retina and brain. The blue wavelengths - which are beneficial during daylight hours because they boost attention, reaction times, and mood - seem to be the most disruptive at night. Exposure to them reduces melatonin production and suppresses sleep.” Scrolling social media before bed can expose you to more than blue light, seeing or reading something that sets your mind racing is not conducive to a good night’s sleep either.

Ten tips for maintaining a healthy relationship with information technology:

  1. Track your non-work IT usage over a week so that you have an accurate picture of how long you are spending online.
  2. Be selective about what people or groups you follow to avoid overwhelm and to make your online experience a positive one.
  3. Schedule set blocks of time in the day to check feeds and surf the net so that it is a proactive task instead of a reactive habit. If you find that you tend to over run the allocated time, set a timer to remind you to stop.
  4. Leave your phone behind when you go for a walk so that you can mindfully focus your five senses on what is around you and make the most of the time outdoors. If you really want it with you, put it out of sight in a bag or pocket, preferably on silent.
  5. Try to have at least one day a week when you don’t use IT other than to speak on the phone with friends and family or to message someone that you are meeting up with that day if you need to update them on timings or location.
  6. And how about a tech-free holiday when you leave all IT behind (or at least out of sight) for a weekend break or longer trip? You can even find accommodation geared to support you in that, for example Unplugged.
  7. Give whoever you are interacting with your undivided attention and avoid checking your phone.
  8. Have phones out of sight and so out of mind at meal times if you value the experience of sharing a meal with others.
  9. Set your devices to night time mode after 6pm to minimise your exposure to blue light at the end of the day and so to optimise the quality of your sleep.
  10. Set a watershed time in the evening an hour or two before you go to bed when you turn off all devices to avoid the stimulation spoiling your slumber.

I hope this post will help you to navigate a safe passage through the sea of information and distractions out there. Do let me know if you have any other strategies that work for you, I would love to know.