I thought this topic would be a good way to acknowledge World Mental Health Day–October 10- because I feel that our increasing reliance on technology is affecting our mental health in multiple but disturbing ways. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in the middle of a yoga class doing my best to balance on one leg, when someone’s cell phone goes off. Recently, it took four separate rings before the woman attached to it decided to turn it off! Needless to say, I had trouble practicing Loving Kindness during that class- as I’m certain many others in the room did also.
Apparently, I’m not the only one who feels this issue needs addressing. A recent issue of Psychotherapy Networker, dedicated an entire issue to this topic entitled, Left to Our Own Devices: Is It Time for Therapists to be Concerned? I read the entire issue cover-to-cover and had trouble putting it down because it was so thought-provoking. In essence, a multitude of experts weigh in on whether or not it’s possible to be ‘addicted’ to technology- mostly smartphones. Both sides are argued with equal conviction and make complete sense. I tend to sit somewhere in the middle, agreeing mostly with those who liken checking emails, texts, and surfing the internet to a ‘compulsion’ rather than a full-blown ‘addiction’. In an article called, The Age of FoMo: Our Brains on 24/7 Alert, One researcher, Moez Limayem, differentiates the two this way:
The underlying motivation to use a mobile phone is not pleasure (i.e., as in the addiction model), but rather a response to heightened stress and anxiety- We feel anxious if we’re not making use of every tiny slice of time.
In other words, we have become increasingly uncomfortable with moments of time when we have nothing to do other than be with ourselves. Another study led by Timothy Wilson of the University of Virginia, offered research participants the following two choices: do “nothing” for 15 minutes or give themselves a small electric shock. Guess which one the majority opted for? THE ELECTRIC SHOCK.
There you have it dear readers- the majority of us would rather receive an electric shock than be left sitting quietly with only our own thoughts and feelings to entertain us. In the study, this applied more to Millennials and those younger than us older folks, but I believe it still serves as a wake-up call to all of us. This speaks directly to an issue that my clients bring up consistently in therapy. It sounds something like this:
YOU KEEP SUGGESTING THAT I BECOME MINDFUL, BUT EVERY TIME I JUST SIT AND SLOW DOWN, I DON’T LIKE THE WAY I FEEL OR THE THOUGHTS I THINK. IT’S FEELS YUCKY AND I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO WITH WHAT COMES UP.
What I point out to people when I hear this response at attempts to slow down, go inward, and to check out the landscape of our inner worlds is this:
YOU BET IT’S DIFFICULT. THAT’S WHY MOST OF US DO EVERYTHING IN OUR POWER TO AVOID BEING MINDFUL AND SLOWING DOWN. WE’D RATHER DISTRACT OURSELVES TO TAKE US ANYWHERE AWAY FROM BEING PRESENT WITH OURSELVES…
Then I gently point out that the reason they came to therapy in the first place was because they were struggling with any one of the following methods they employed to ‘distract’ themselves which in and of itself, had eclipsed the rest of their life:
Excessive alcohol consumption
And the list goes on…
One tiny way I help clients increase their capacity for mindfulness is asking them to turn off their cellphones for the entire time we are in session. This is often a big stretch for a lot of people and some insist on keeping it by their sides even while it’s off as some kind of comfort object like when toddlers drag a ‘blankie’ with them wherever they go.
Do you have a cellphone? If so, do you practice mindfulness when using it?
Something to try if you feel your cellphone controls your life:
- Try some boundary-setting such as turning it off from 9 pm to 7 am Monday to Friday
- Deliberately leave it at home when you go to a yoga class! The karma payoff will be enormous!
- Try setting it on a ringtone which you find meditatively soothing rather than alarming or jarring
- Practise “cell-free” spaces in your home such as: the dining room table, the bedroom, or bathroom and see what it’s like to discipline yourself (and other family members) in this way. You may actually have a face-to-face conversation or even end up playing a board game!
- Consciously decide to turn your ringer off when you’re doing something you want to pay full attention to such as: petting your dog, having pillow talk with your lover, or eating a delicious and nutritious meal.