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In our work as therapists and coaches, we often find clients discussing the impact of technology on their lives.  For some, it is to do with stress, for others sleep issues or other relationship difficulties.  There are many sources of advice on things such as recommended screen time, particularly for children.   However, when we look at research into this area, we see that things are a bit more complicated than we might imagine, as highlighted in the following BBC report from February 2018 at the bottom of this article.

A new relationship with Technology

One thing is sure, and that is that the generation arriving now will have a very different relationship with technology from our parents' generation.  Even now, many children are used to streaming music of their choice or watching on-demand television and the concept of listening to or watching "whatever is on just now" is very alien to them.  Children see adults using phones, tablets, and computers throughout the day and then hear those same adults berating adolescents for being glued to their phones.
Many adults coming to see us for stress management will often mention how difficult it can be to switch off from work, particularly as emails arrive on their smartphones and there can be an expectancy or culture of replying out of normal hours.  However, the flip side of this is that many of us also benefit greatly from the ability to deal with issues remotely.  A well-timed response can avoid some problems that a delay could bring.   Knowing changes to your diary ahead of time can prepare you for the day ahead and avoid some unexpected headaches.

Like any tool, technology such as smartphones can enrich our lives or can impinge on our well-being.  Being able to research holiday destinations, read restaurant reviews, learn new DIY skills, make friends, grow in social confidence, clear our inboxes on our way into work and so on, can contrast sharply with experiences of "fake news", inaccurate information, online bullying or isolation, constant bombardment of emails or messages and a feeling of not being able to shut down and relax.  

Addiction on the rise

The issue of smartphone addiction is also on the rise.   Checking an app to see if there is anything new or exciting can give us a chemical boost in our brain.  When there is nothing of interest, we move on to the next app, searching for that buzz.  Sometimes after several false attempts, we return to the initial app in the hope that something new has happened since we last visited.  Even those who find relationships through dating apps sometimes report that they return to the app for the buzz, even if their relationship goal has been met.  This addictive pattern often occurs because of what psychologists refer to as intermittent reward.  If trying a behaviour never results in pleasure, we give up.  Paradoxically, if we get everything we need immediately and every time, we become saturated.  The most addictive scenario (which is what makes gambling so popular) is when there is an occasional reward that feeds our desire for more.

Time for a break?

For some of us, the solution is to have regular breaks from technology.  A weekend free of smartphones, a holiday with no internet, a cut-off time in the evening.  We each need to find a way to manage technology in our lives so that it works for us, allowing us to draw the significant benefits, while minimising the costs.   When you have that next tea or coffee break (decaf in the evening!), ask yourself if you need to be checking your phone right then.  Perhaps a break from technology is as important as a break from work.  A few minutes of peace and relaxation might be well worth the price of missing out on a few moments of technology buzz. 

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