Facebook status, Twitter feed, Instagram, Snapchat, emails, selfies…welcome to life in the digital age. Social media updates on friends are constant, detailing enviable holidays, incredible food, pedicured feet in exotic locations and enthusiastic use of adjectives. This constant barrage of information has nurtured a phenomenon known as FOMO (fear of missing out), an acronym emblematic of our times.
In the not-too-distant past, train commuters stared out of windows, read hard covered books, or chatted with friends. The modern commute now reveals a singular phenomenon – people head down, swiping, scrolling and zooming luminescent screens. Smartphones have made the internet accessible to anyone, anywhere, introducing a thoroughly contemporary problem – when do we ‘switch off’?
Digital technology brings an endless flow of information into our lives, which can be challenging and stressful. Meanwhile, social media pressures us to disclose personal information and experiences.
Recent scientific research has found a link between digital technology and psychological stress. The addictive nature of life online can make cutting back difficult, but it’s worth taking some steps to reduce the amount of time you spend staring at that screen. However, if a total digital detox seems too hard to achieve, consider introducing small changes to help yourself relax and re-energise.
Bedtime is sleep time
When crawling into bed it can be difficult to resist a little online shopping, or checking Facebook one last time. But did you know the blue light emitted from our devices interrupts our natural circadian rhythm, or sleep/wake cycle? This light disrupts the production of melatonin, the hormone that signals that it is time to sleep. If a technology-free bedroom is too daunting, try disconnecting 30 minutes before you sleep for a more restful night.
Meditate on the small moments
For many of us, finding time to relax may seem an impossible task. Scheduling down time may seem counter intuitive, but even ten minutes a day can put a significant dent in our stress levels.
Peace can be found in small moments – practising mindfulness daily yoga, going for a walk in nature, or taking time out in a local park. Listening to or playing music can be a calming experience as it focuses the mind, removing distractions. Whatever your method, take some time each day to engage in activities that bring you inner calm.
Friendship – a wildly underrated medication
Facebook users commonly have hundreds of friends, but do these online friendships offer the same health benefits as ‘real’ friendships? Studies have suggested that some forms of online connections bring health benefits but others do not. Face-to-face friendships in the real world are known to be associated with lower mortality.
Friendship is not just about fun and camaraderie; strong friendships lower our levels of chronic stress and may even extend our lives. Adults with strong social support have a lower risk of significant health problems, including infection and depression.
Beware the busy life
‘I’m booooooored!’ may be the most reviled refrain a parent can hear, but allowing boredom into a child’s life is good parenting. Research has shown that boredom provides an inner quiet that helps children develop self-awareness. It is through finding a solution to boredom that children can learn important life skills such as creativity, drive and passion.
Allowing boredom into our lives helps adults to still their minds, too. Our unoccupied minds get creative to provide missing stimulation through imaginative fantasies and exploration. Quieting our minds also allows for self-reflection, time to review our lives and reassess.
Pets reduce stress
It is hard to be stressed when a purring cat crawls into your lap, or the wet nose of a dog nudges your hand. Studies have demonstrated a lower level of cortisol (the stress hormone associated with anxiety and depression) in pet owners and an increase in dopamine (a chemical associated with positive feelings) after just five minutes with a pet.
Be kind to yourself and take some time out from the frenetic pace of modern life. Though scheduling time for your-self can be difficult, making a little digital-free ‘me’ time is great for your long-term health and happiness. Hopefully these tips will inspire you to invest in a little self-care and inner peace.