Tech addiction: Can simple interventions centred around mindfulness therapy break the habit?

Today’s world is inundated with different social media apps and is increasing our connectivity with the world. We are consuming huge amounts of data from what we see, hear or simply process and it is way higher than what it was 10 years ago. It is estimated that out of 7.7 billion people on this planet more than 3.50 billion are active online users signifying our dependence and enslavement to online mediums.

We are practically chained to our gadgets, willingly or unwillingly. While at the workplace we are plugged into our computers, calls, management systems, software and programs and for leisure we catch up on social media and binge-watch shows online.

We are constantly connected to technology, at work and during our down time.

The reality of technology has started to negatively impact our work, family, social life; making people more disconnected from real life. Our behaviour and social norms are changing as people no longer talk to each other in person or on call but prefer to chat on apps.

Is tech addiction real?

Behavioural addiction syndrome is characterised by an increasing inability to limit, control or regulate one’s behaviour towards a particular object or stimulant. Technology addiction causes similar obsessive-compulsive disorder when a person is unable to resist their urge to technology. There is growing evidence on how “Always-On” technology impacts human behaviour but research is still in its early stages. Tech addiction is real and has been added to the list of behavioural addictions and mental disorders.

Are smart devices making us dumb?

The answer is a definite yes for those who have an over-dependence on technology.

With YouTube tells you how to drive a car, Siri does your mathematics, Google teaches you how to boil a potato, Alexa rattles off the day, date and time, or your phone reminds you about your next meeting every day, we are putting in less effort to build our memory.

Scientists across the world are researching how our growing habits and perpetual involvement with smartphones and other gadgets causes cognitive loss and weakens person’s ability to critically think, respond, focus and regulate emotions.

Does being ‘plugged-in’ impact our behaviour?

Social media is one of the greatest boons of modern times because it allows us to keep in touch with people anywhere in the world. It has changed our behaviours dramatically as we now openly share our lives with friends, family, relatives, like-minded communities and almost anyone who is connected with us. It’s transformed businesses while giving us the opportunity to market and sell our products and services, which had promoted new job opportunities.

At the same time, social media is equally responsible for addiction and negative behaviours in people. Studies conducted by medical and research institutes have found social media promotes narcissism, overuse of smartphones has become the leading cause for reduced sleep, higher stress, anxiety, depression, loneliness, jealousy, paranoia, complications with mental functioning and compulsive behaviour. In fact, it has been noted that addictive games and overuse of screens makes children less compassionate and un-empathetic.

Excessive gaming can making children aggressive and lose their empathy. Image credit: Flickr/Lyncconf Games

Research has discovered that people who have a regular habit of being plugged into social media, screens and the internet are more prone to various new types of mental disorders and anxiety called FOMO “fear of missing out” or FOLO “fear of being left out”. These are real phenomenon becoming a common cause for stress and negatively affecting our performance and happiness.

How does it affect our brain?

Technology addiction is a complex condition manifested by compulsive use of technology with an understanding of its harmful consequences. On a neurological level, tech addiction is comparable to any substance addiction, where user expectation is followed by reward through release of neurotransmitters such as dopamine in the brain and other feel-good chemicals found in the human body. The reward likes on social media, receiving messages or positive comments from others, winning a video game or crossing difficulty levels and comparisons with other players. This changes the brain’s wiring and over time, the person craves this release and often requires an increased stimulus to get the same effect.

Scientists have found that compulsive tech addicts develop problems of distorted thinking, behaviour and body functions. Brain imaging studies show changes in areas of brain that relate to judgment, decision making, learning, memory, behaviour and emotional control.

Symptoms of tech addiction

• Having decreased interest in person or outdoor activities
• Irritation and annoyance when asked to disconnect from phone or gadget
• Relentless use of the phone in spite of negative outcomes at work or in relationships
• Inability to physically stop checking social media apps
• Preoccupation with online experiences even in offline time.
• Excessively playing games on the Internet

We can see the following reactions due to these behaviours

• Anxiety and uneasiness
• Fear and Depression
• Feelings of guilt
• Loss of Memory
• Uneasiness and Anxiety
• Inability to plan and prioritize
• Less alertness
• Distorted time perception
• Dishonesty
• Dodging and delay of Work
• Agitation and Defensiveness
• Mood Swings
• Procrastination
• Lack of interest in Everyday work
• Isolation and Loneliness

There are also few physical symptoms such as back or neck pain, headaches, dry eyes or vision issues, sleep disorder or insomnia, poor nutrition, poor hygiene, weight loss or weight gain.

We no longer talk to other people face to face or even on the phone, people prefer to use chat apps.

Are we losing our attention?

Human ability to pay “attention” is extremely important. A report by Consumer Insights team of Microsoft Canada on human attention says that the average attention span today has reduced to only eight seconds from 12 seconds in the year 2000. You have heard the phrase, having the attention span of a goldfish, which is nine seconds. So interestingly humans have lost 33 percent ability to pay attention since the inception of smartphones and other devices and our attention is now lower than a goldfish as well.

Recent developments and research on tech addiction prove that contemporary mindfulness practices are a potential cure for addictive tech behaviour. Cultivating higher mindfulness traits allows a person to maintain a sense of calm and balance in the midst of difficult environments.

Can mindfulness keep tech addiction at bay?

Neuroscientists have found a person trained in mindfulness is less driven by reactive behaviour and hence can observe the environment, emotions, physical reactions and thus can make more informed decisions rather than acting on impulses. Mindfulness practices cultivate new neural pathways in a person’s brain which allows them to acknowledge negative emotions, understand unhealthy cravings they realize its temporary nature and thus let them pass gently.

Mindfulness-based therapies and coaching is a structured approach where you gradually understand your behaviour and then you willingly change attitudes to disconnect from neurotic addictions. These are time-based therapies which progressively change behaviours and emotional dependability on external sedatives such as smartphones and the Internet.

A well-designed, stage-by-stage mindfulness-based therapy can help you to discover the root causes and guide you with healthier ways to deal with loneliness, depersonalisation, stress, depression and many other emotional stressors which are in most cases the real cause of tech addiction.

Contemporary mindfulness practices are a potential cure for addictive tech behavior.

Specially-designed mindfulness-based interventions provide mental training in practices designed to activate a state of metacognitive awareness embodied by highly attentive and non-judgmental monitoring of moment-by-moment thoughts while observing rising emotion, sensation, and perception without ruminating on the past and the future.

Mindfulness also allows a person to increase self-awareness and improve the ability to focus on current moments which allows them to strengthen muscle like pathways in their brain to let go of these tech-pangs and online social cravings. Mindfulness also promotes self-compassion and confidence which allows a person to accept themself as it is. They don’t have to hide behind the screens or look for the online gratifications and social validations.

Mindfulness boosts cognitive strength

Practising mindfulness meditations stops tech dependability and allows a person to exercise its “cognitive strength” which supports in spanning out from compulsive behaviours and addictive obsessions. Mindfulness helps in organizing and structuring thoughts and emotions, which increases emotional intelligence and self-management which in turn evokes essential healthy habits and superior lifestyle preferences.

12 simple tips to ward off this addiction.

  1. Observe what are the triggers that prompt you to go towards phone or internet
  2. Start journaling and write whenever you are able to resist your habit.
  3. Be a good Role model as Boss or as a Parent
  4. Create Tech-Free Zones in your office and Home
  5. Have a Tech Holiday
  6. Find alternative ways to avoid the use of phone or internet
  7. Avoid carrying the phone all the time with you
  8. Hide phone or iPad when you are at home
  9. Try calling friends or relative instead of texting
  10. Delete all unnecessary apps from your phone
  11. Put auto block timer for use of social media apps
  12. Switch off all the notifications

Mindfulness Exercises  :

You can also do some of below mindfulness practices, designed by well know Mindfulness and Emotional Intelligence Trainer –  Manish Behl

  • Mindful walking while going for meetings instead of surfing emails or sending messages
  • Compassionate listening to others and observe your craving to check your phone.
  • Set your phone ringer as an alarm to connect with your breath. So, the next time your phone rings or a message notification comes up, first check your breath or two (inhale and exhale) before you check your phone.

Some lifestyle routines get very strongly ingrained in our behaviour. If you find tech habit too persistent than the best way is to find some good Mindfulness Coach and take professional help to cultivate a healthy lifestyle and habits.

The author is a leading mindfulness and emotional intelligence expert in India, a TEDx speaker, and founder of the Mindful Science Centre (MSC) and the Mindfulness India Summit – Asia’s largest summit on Mindfulness and Emotional Intelligence backed by neuroscience. MSC is an institution for Mindfulness-based Emotional Intelligence studies and research for the workplace, individual, education, and wellbeing. Bringing the wisdom of contemporarily mindfulness practices validated by modern science and making them relevant to modern life, the Mindful Science Centre applies practices based on self-awareness and social-emotional intelligence that cultivate leadership qualities such as attention, resilience, focus, empathy, compassion, communication and clarity. Well-designed training programs and one-on-one coaching sessions support individuals and organizations to develop a positive outlook, decision-making, agility, creativity, concentration, sustainability, mental and physical well-being through mindfulness and Emotional Intelligence practices.

Tech addiction: Can simple interventions centred around mindfulness therapy break the habit?

Mindfulness based Training and Coaching

Mindful Science Centre
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Mindful Science Centre is mindfulness and emotional intelligence based  training and learning centre providing leadership and performance solutions for corporates and organizations. Mindful Science Centre applies practices based on self-awareness and social emotional intelligence that cultivate leadership qualities such as attention, resilience, focus, empathy, compassion, communication and clarity. Well-designed Mindfulness training programs and one-on-one coaching sessions support individuals and organizations to develop a positive outlook, decision-making, agility, creativity, concentration, sustainability, mental and physical well-being through mindfulness and Emotional Intelligence practices.

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Web: www.mindfulsciencecentre.com. Mail: info@mindfulsciencecentre.com

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