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Unplug for better health. Too much tech is harmful

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Is your iPhone your alarm clock?

Do you get the jitters if you’re away from technology for more than a couple of hours?

Is going on vacation and leaving your laptop behind unthinkable?

Your tech might be toxic, so look for red flags such as being unable to be without it. Or ignoring people when you’re physically with them. Or feelings of restlessness, agitation or depression.

“We know that screen time and tech use has become an urgent issue,” said Dr. Kolin Good, chair of the department of psychiatry at Reading Hospital in West Reading.

Having a healthy relationship with your tech is as vital to your overall well-being as are a balanced diet, enough sleep, nourishing family and friend relationships and satisfaction from work.

But its overuse can lead to social isolation, depression, anxiety, impatience, anger and even rage. Yes, add overdependence on technology to the list of enervating behaviors such as overeating, binge drinking and overworking, which drain energy or vitality.

“Enervating activities are not in our best interests,” said Rik Fire, a psychotherapist with New Vitae Wellness and Recovery in Quakertown. Fire also has a private practice.

Tech use can spell trouble depending upon how you use it, how it affects your work, family and personal relationships and whether or not you can set aside devices to enjoy nondigital pleasures and pursuits.

“Many people talk about what their priorities are, but what you spend your time doing is where your priorities are,” Fire said.

OLD SCHOOL

Do you tune out co-workers unless they send you email or texts? Do you have a problem turning off your smartphone, or, worse, does it share your bed?

Consider the tone in which your day begins, such as how you awake.

“Get an old-school alarm clock,” said Courtney H. Chellew, a psychiatrist and medical director of LVPG Adult and Pediatric Psychiatry-Muhlenberg in Hanover Township, Northampton County.

Chellew said using a smartphone as an alarm clock is a poor choice. An old-fashioned alarm clock has specific functions: to tell time and alert the time.

SLEEP DISORDERS

Alarm clocks haven’t been linked to sleep disorders, as smartphones have, or with potentially harmful magnetic waves.

“Many people suffer from insomnia, and technology has a lot to do with it; it’s messing with sleep cycles,” Fire said.

He explained while significant scientific evidence has been linked to the dangers of cellphone overuse and changes in brain activity, the best option is not to have devices next to or near the head during sleep.

IMPATIENCE

What’s more, increasing evidence suggests smartphone use within an hour before retiring may cause insomnia, frequent night waking and interrupted sleep patterns.

“People’s minds are racing when they try to go to bed, and they can’t slow down,” Fire said.

Tech has taught us impatience, too.

“We live in a culture of fast fill-in-the-blank,” and people become frustrated quickly because they don’t want to wait, according to Fire.

Chellew said technology, especially text and instant messaging, has created instant response expectations, which can become stressful.

ADDICTION IS POSSIBLE

While it may seem the potential for connection is limitless, particularly with social media, heavy online use can create isolation and a reduced ability to interact with people face-to-face.

Good said screen time erodes social connections.

“It is decreasing socialization and changing behavior expectations with each other and with ourselves,” she said.

At its worst, an overdependence on technology can become an addiction. Chellew said digital addictions are usually a symptom of another mental health condition or behavioral problem, which should be addressed by a professional health care provider.

TIME LIMITS

Become a savvy technology user by taking charge of your digital life.

Rather than aimlessly surfing the internet only to discover hours have slid by, limit the amount of time you’ll use social media or Google search, and send or receive text messages or emails.

Set reasonable time restrictions and stick to them.

Context, appropriateness and setting boundaries are good guidelines for any technology use, Chellew said.

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Write to the Editorial Department at editorial@lvb.com

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