We all know that texting while driving is perilous and answering a phone during a face to face conversation is rude. Many of us now understand that screen time before bed inhibits sleep.

And, as we recently reported, we only think we can multitask, when in fact research shows the process of splitting our attention usually leads to delays and mistakes.

Yet, with all this awareness of how the digital world overwhelms us, breaking this destructive tether seems near impossible.

Does Your Heart Skip a Beat When Your Phone Dies?

If you need a little more incentive, though, research continues to pile up on the psychological effects of digital dependence. Smartphone separation anxiety–that’s actually a thing. Researchers are calling it nomophobia (no-mobile phone phobia), and Iowa State University academics have devised a questionnaire to diagnose it. (Rate on a scale of one to seven if “Running out of battery in my smartphone would scare me.”)

Luckily, there are some practical strategies to break nomophobia and increase health and well-being. UCSF neuroscientist Dr. Adam Gazzeley and California State University, Dominguez Hills professor emeritus Larry D. Rosen offer tips in their new book, “The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High Tech World.” We’ve categorized them into three areas.

Socializing

Even though social media allows us to collect thousands of digital friends, our physical relationships are taking a hit. Research shows that digital devices are impacting closeness and connection with loved ones. One study found a correlation between the mere presence of a phone at the dinner table and a diminished sense of trust and empathy between individuals.

Tips

  • Declare places like the dining room to be technology-free zones.
  • When engaging in an important conversation, set a timer for a predetermined period during which you and the person you’re talking to will refrain from checking your phones.
  • If you’re worried about missing urgent calls, then use an app like Essential Calls or Selective Silence for Android devices, or Do Not Disturb coupled with the Allow Calls function on an iPhone.

Sleep

I used to think it was relaxing to scroll through my email or Facebook feed one last time before shutting my eyes at night, but screen time messes with your sleep. The blue light emitted by a smartphone or tablet affects melatonin, a hormone that controls the natural sleep-wake cycle. Mounting evidence has found that–unlike reading a book–online browsing stimulates the brain.

Tips

  • Remove your digital devices from the bedroom.
  • If that sounds impossible, a Mayo clinic study advises dimming devices and holding the screen at least 14 inches away from your face to reduce the blue light infiltrating your eyes, so as not to inhibit the release of melatonin.

Safe Driving

At 55 mph, taking your eyes off the road for five seconds to respond to a text message is the equivalent of driving 100 yards — the length of a football field–with your eyes closed. Hand-free devices, you should consider, are not the solution; A recent study revealed that drivers can remain distracted for up to 27 seconds after hanging up a call, even if it was enabled by a voice assistant.

The U.S. Department of Transportation reports that in 2013 distracted driving claimed 3,154 lives and injured an estimated 424,000 Americans, all of which were 100 percent preventable.

Tips

  • Leave your phone in your trunk with the Bluetooth off.
  • If that’s too much to bear, give your device to a passenger to monitor.
  • Apps can help. SafeDrive gives you points when you restrict yourself from your phone while you’re driving faster than 6 mph. You can use the points to receive discounts at participating stores. DriveMode reads incoming messages by turning texts into audio. Parents can check out Cellcontrol, DriveMode and Live2Txt for teens behind the wheel.

Gazzeley says none of this is about opting out of technology. Rather, the point is to create boundaries and carve out time to focus on a single task. This means we will all have to stop responding every time our phone rings, dings or otherwise beckons.

‘Help! My Phone Is Ruining My Life’ — 8 Tips for the Addicted 24 October,2016Lesley McClurg

  • Stephen Beres

    Ritalin + Broadband Connection.
    Furiously Troll the Internet for Days
    Non-Stop without Food or Sleep.????

    The Addictive Potential manifests itself as Binge Behavior similar to that of Substance Abuse. The individual has effectively Lost the ability of Free Agency, the Power to Choose to Stop, even when Acutely Aware and Frustrated by the Inability to Physically Stop what the Mind Can’t leave alone. Behavior that is also Strongly Present in Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. The Awareness of Being Unable to Control one’s own Behavior.

  • cclaytonr

    Heard a piece of this show today on WUNC and went looking for details. This is exactly the discussion we’ve been having as a family with our 14 yo son (9th grader). We feel like as parents, we need to model the behavior but disagreed about the modeling. This article is a great start and I recommended the book to the Chapel Hill Public Library!

  • Zack

    Thanks for some great advice on how to create a better relationship with our technology. You might like what we are doing over at Ransomly. We are using beacons to create app-free spaces in homes and schools (demo video: https://www.facebook.com/ransomly/videos/1049038631793677/

Author

Lesley McClurg

Lesley McClurg reports for KQED Science primarily on medical and mental health with a sprinkling of stories about space, environmental toxins and food.

If there’s a natural disaster brewing Lesley can usually be found right in the midst of a catastrophe. She’s reported on disastrous floods, fires, droughts and earthquakes.

Her work is regularly rebroadcast on NPR and PBS. She is an Edward R. Murrow and Emmy award winning journalist. The Society of Environmental Journalists recognized her beat coverage of California’s historic drought.

Before joining KQED in 2016, she reported for Capital Public Radio, Colorado Public Radio, KUOW and KCTS in Seattle.

You can find her on Twitter at @lesleywmcclurg.

You can find her KQED medical science stories, her environment stories, and general news stories.

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