Leanna Stockard, MA, LMFT

Are you consistently on your phone, iPad, or laptop? Do you have push notifications on for each application on your phone? If you do, you are definitely not alone. While I was on vacation overseas this month, I recognized that I was consistently checking to see if I had Wi-Fi to check work emails, or to see if I had any notifications on social media. I recognized what I was doing and asked myself, why am I doing this, and what is this doing to me?

I recently read an article by Anna Goldfarb in the New York Times titled “Stop Letting Modern Distractions Steal Your Attention” that discusses this topic of distraction. Goldfarb quotes several experts on the impact consistent Internet and social media access could be having on us.

One expert, Dr. David Rock, the C.E.O. of The Neuroleadership Institute, reports that allowing ourselves to be consistently interrupted impacts our focus. Further, The American Psychological Association reports that being consistently accessible impacts our stress levels. Another, Linda Stone, former Apple and Microsoft executive, calls our consistent accessibility “continuous partial attention,” and our fear of missing out puts us into an “artificial sense of constant crisis,” which strains our lifestyle. When we frequently switch from task to task, it takes time for us to refocus, and this builds throughout the day. Lastly, Sophie Leroy, a University professor, has coined this as “attention residue,” and it increases stress and fatigue in our lives.

As a therapist, I frequently discuss boundaries with my clients. Even though they may be uncomfortable, and others may push back, boundaries are essential for our mental health. Goldfarb reported you could experience the following benefits when you set accessibility boundaries.

“You’ll be calmer”

Catherine Price, founder of Screen/Life Balance, reports that when attempting to set boundaries with your phone, you will likely feel stressed and anxious initially. Price states this is a symptom of withdrawal, and after this period subsides you will likely experience a new state of calmness. Price recommends starting off with short periods of time and working up to a 24-hour break.

“You’ll be more creative”

Have you ever had a creative idea while you were in the shower, or an idea for an amazing invention in your dream from the night before? Dr. Rock states that when we allow ourselves the time to not be stimulated, we can form a “blank slate” in our brain to explore new, creative ideas. Price also makes the connection of being easily accessible to our long-term memories. She shared, “to form long-term memories, you need to create new pathways in the brain, a process easily disrupted by distraction.”

“You’ll be more productive”

Paula Davis-Laack, a stress and resilience expert, discusses how being frequently accessible and working often is praised in the workforce, and makes us feel “lazy” when we decide to take a break. She reports that due to the overall unaccepting nature of workplace unplugging, we need to work to setting boundaries ourselves. Dr. Rock recommends taking a 15-minute break after working hard for 45 minutes. He compares the brain to a muscle, and shares that we generally have no problem taking a break when doing physical activity, and that we should do the same for our brain.

I’m happy to have found this article at a time that I truly benefitted from it. Staying in the present moment and away from electronics at least made me calmer at a time where I should have been relaxing. If you find yourself struggle to set boundaries with your electronic devices, it may be helpful to connect with a therapist. Contact Symmetry Counseling today to get in contact with one of our talented clinicians.