HEALTH TAKE-AWAY: Unplugging from mobile devices can be vital to your health

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For all of the many benefits internet and cell technology have brought to our daily lives in terms of information access, social connectivity and convenience, we're discovering as a society that there's a very real downside to what has become an addictive reliance on these modern-day devices. We seem to be so perpetually "plugged in" that we're missing some of the most meaningful moments of our lives and compromising our personal health.

Consider these eye-opening statistics, gathered from research over the past few years:

- 66 percent of cell phone owners suffer from a newly-coined condition called nomophobia — the fear of being without a cell phone or unable to use it for some reason, such as no signal or running out of minutes or battery power.

- 84 percent of cell phone users say they couldn't go a single day without their device.

- Mobile device owners check their devices every 6.5 minutes or 150 times during waking hours.

- 67 percent admit they check their phone for messages, alerts, or calls — even when they don't notice their phone ringing or vibrating.

- 88 percent of U.S. consumers use mobile devices as a second screen even while watching television.

- 60 percent of people globally have slept holding their phones.

The very technology designed to make life better is having the opposite effect on our health. Stress and worry is at an all-time high. Our blood pressure and heart rates are rising. Our immune systems are being depleted. We're sleeping less. Our work-life balance is completely blurred. We're constantly "on call," and even though we may resent that, we're not always willing to unplug.

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Let's think again, because there are many compelling reasons to do so:

- Unplugging combats FOMO — the fear of missing out. This has been recognized as an emerging psychological disorder. With the constant stream of notification, our fear of being left out grows. Turning it off and finding contentment in our present space is a welcome skill.

- Unplugging helps remove unhealthy feelings of jealousy, envy and loneliness. One in three people feels worse after visiting social media like Facebook. That comes from comparing ourselves socially to peers, feeling deflated if we have fewer "likes" and comments.

- Unplugging provides solitude essential to our well-being. Solitude is harder to find in an always-connected world. It grounds us to the real world. It provides the stillness and quiet needed to replenish ourselves. Go silent now and then for your heath.

- Unplugging keeps us in the moment. Life is what's happening while we're looking at our smartphones. When we stare at our screens, we miss out on our real lives and the people we care about. Try leaving your phone alone. Drop those annoying notifications. Set a rule for phones off at a certain hour. Remove your phone from your bedroom.

- Unplugging helps us consume less and create more. Most of the time we spend in front of technology has us consuming - browsing the internet, digesting social media and playing video games. When we disconnect and create more real moments in our lives, we're better for it.

- Unplugging lets us break the cycle of addiction. Only by actively putting these devices aside will we understand the benefits of doing so. Commit yourself to "technology fast." Pick one tech habit to reduce. Set a time frame (hours/days/weeks). Replace it with real-life activities. Track how you feel.

We're an increasingly impatient society. We crave and expect the keystroke immediacy the internet and cell phones deliver. But we're paying a high price with our body, mind and spirit. Consciously unplugging from the grid now and then will reconnect us to ourselves, the people we love and the real world around us.

Maureen L. Daniels, M.Ed., is director of Wellness at Work at Berkshire Health Systems.


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