By Mark Underwood
Sometimes, too much of a good thing can have damaging consequences.
Consider the wired world we all live in. You can stay connected with friends, coworkers, and family almost anywhere, anytime via an ever-growing number of electronic devices. And as people become hooked on technology, they often add more tools to their high-tech repository of gadgets.
Everywhere you look it seems like people are checking e-mail, browsing the internet, checking social media sites, shopping, reading books, magazines and newspapers or watching videos and playing games online.
It used to be that smartphones or laptops were sufficient tools for connecting with friends or working on the go. But now, many people not only have smartphones, laptops, and desktop computers, they have electronic readers and tablets.
If that weren’t enough, you can buy refrigerators with computer panels built into the door so you can check your email or get news or weather updates while you cook in your wireless home. Beyond the kitchen, you can install a smart TV that responds to voice commands and features internet accessibility so you can easily check social media sites.
So what’s wrong with this picture? Plenty, say experts who have found that constant checking of email and keeping up with social media sites can become an unhealthy addiction.
Your brain on technology
Technology has unleashed the power to connect people all over the world, in remote jungles as well as on top of tall mountains. It seems like there is no place left on Earth without internet access now that Mount Everest, the tallest peak in the world, gained 3G connectivity in 2010.
But all that connectivity all the time is taking its toll on our brains. Researchers at the University of California-Los Angeles said in an article in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry that if you spend time on specific mental exercises you are strengthening your brain’s neural circuits. Those researchers also found that if you are spending a large amount of time “talking” to people on the internet instead of on the phone or in person, the circuits that control human contact skills will weaken.
The hold that technology has on many people can lead to symptoms that are similar to depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
The good news is you can step away from the computer when you want – you don’t have to follow family and friends online all the time.
Monitor your time
If you are checking email or social media dozens of times each day and you can’t seem to go very long without being online, reward yourself when you do something else.
Set a timer when you go online. Then promise yourself a small reward like calling an old friend, taking a drive in the country, or visiting a local farmer’s market after the timer goes off.
Plan to do things that you’ve neglected to do for quite some time—things that have nothing to do with computers. Take a walk in a park, join an exercise class, plan a party, visit a museum or take in a play.
It’s easy to want to sit on the couch and channel surf, but if you’re spending more time in front of TV, you may find it is less enjoyable than you think. University of Maryland researchers found that 30 percent more unhappy people watch TV compared to happy people.
When you’re really trying to de-stress, limit electronic screen time. With all the electronic devices available today, you have unlimited opportunities to check social media and email.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, take steps to de-stress and curb the overuse of technology in your life.
Mark Underwood is a neuroscience researcher, president, and co-founder of Quincy Bioscience, a biotech company located in Madison, Wisconsin focused on the discovery and development of medicines to treat age related memory loss and the diseases of aging. Mark has been taped as an expert in the field of neuroscience for The Wall Street Journal Morning Radio, CBS, and CNN Radio among others. Underwood is also a contributor to the “Brain Health Guide” which highlights the research at Quincy Bioscience and offers practical tips to help keep health brain function in aging. Visit www.TheGoodNewsAboutAging.com or more articles and tips for healthy aging.