Home Issues2023 Well-Being Issue Ctrl + Alt + Delete: Unplugging from the Internet for Mental Bliss

Ctrl + Alt + Delete: Unplugging from the Internet for Mental Bliss

by Amy Wood

Digital Boundaries will Prevent Burnout in Your Personal and Profesional Lives

In today’s world of instant gratification in a digitally driven world, cyber wellness is often ignored, and we are all suffering because of it.  What if I told you that a few simple tips could help give you peace of mind?

Digital data and our easy access to it has changed the way we work, communicate and interact with others.  You can make an appointment, search for a local plumber, check on your family and friends through social media and even pay your bills anytime and from anywhere.  Literally any information, as well as misinformation, is at your fingertips.

As a Gen Xer OR “elder” Millennial (apparently, I’m on the cusp of both and it depends on who you ask these days) I grew up in the 80’s and 90’s so I remember the early days of cable TV, Atari, Nintendo video games – even the first home computer and AOL Instant Messenger – and the creeps that sent pics of body parts a tween girl shouldn’t see. 

We still have similar aspects of those days in today’s technology.  We have texting and messaging apps.  There are still creeps asking A/S/L on video game chats and on Instagram.  There are video games that allow live communication with your online team.  

But it’s different now.  What started as a way to check out and unplug at the end of a work day has become a dependency for many.  

While researching content for a lecture I was giving on opioid prescribing safety, I discovered a lot of unsettling information about dopamine and addiction – and it wasn’t all about opioids.  We live in a culture of constantly chasing the next thing that will make us feel good, and this now includes digital data and our easy and abundant access to it.  For example, according to a study done by the Kaiser Family Foundation, the average American spends 7.5 hours PER DAY in front of a screen.  That’s just the average.  My phone logged 7 hours and 36 minutes as the average per day last week.  That’s just my phone.  I’m on my work computer most of the day.  Now, some of the phone screen time logged overlaps with the computer since I listen to music or audiobooks while I work.  But a fair amount of that screen time is games and social media at night.

I noticed the same with the rest of my household.  My kids are on phones or computers all day or watching TV because it’s summer and the TV and devices are the babysitter.  But it disconnects us.  Do you remember playing Super Mario Brothers and getting yelled at to “Turn it off, it’s dinnertime” and being really upset?  That same thing happens now, just escalated.  My kids were yelling “Just a minute” and that minute turned into an hour and they were still grumpy.  My husband and I would turn on a show we both liked and he would also have a YouTube video playing on his phone through headphones.  

It had to end.  I decided to embrace the “Fun Hater” title my kids gave me and instituted some rules.

  1. No devices during meals.
  2. No separate devices during the block out hours of 6-8 PM.  We can listen to music or watch a show together. 
  3. Play games at least once per week.  We like fast card games like Cover Your Assets, which is ironic since I’m all about Risk Management.
  4. Take walks as a family.
  5. At least one day each weekend, we do a family outing.  It may be to Costco, but it’s all together.  With 3 kids and different activity schedules, it can sometimes be challenging, but well worth it.
  6. Cook together.  The rule in our house is that if you help cook, you don’t have to clean up, so they scramble to volunteer with meal prep.
  7. At least twice a month, or when life is extra stressful for one of us, we have a dance party.  Crank up the tunes, apologize to the neighbors and dance it out!
  8. Art time.  My entire household is creative so this is open to them whenever.  Creativity and expression of that creativity should never be stifled.  
  9. We bought a phone jail and use it regularly.  Even for the adult’s phones.
  10. We segmented the wifi so each device is set up on a different wifi login that can be turned off if one of the kids embraces the surly teenager attitude we all know and despise.

We discovered quickly that we were having actual conversations instead of hearing grunts and moans in response to everything we said.  We also noticed they weren’t quick to react when upset.  Because they weren’t playing online games all day with nasty keyboard warriors in the chat window, they felt good about themselves.  This one is one of the most important.  We see it at work in dental practices all the time.  A patient complains on Google or Yelp and we immediately want to respond and you shouldn’t.  Let that person be miserable, but don’t let them drag you down with them.

Digital boundaries will prevent burnout in your personal and professional lives and enhance your overall well-being.  Unfortunately, we spent most of the past few years consumed with short videos and information overload, desperately looking for ways to check out of the chaos surrounding us.  It’s time we take that back and be happy in the little things again.

There’s also the topic of cybersecurity, but I’ve written several articles for The Profitable Dentist on that topic.  Check them out (online 😉) here…

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