Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Email Apnea, a Digital Diagnosis

Do you hold your breath when checking e-mail on your computer, clicking to see a notification on Facebook, texting on your iPhone, or watching a YouTube video? Have you ever tested it out? Stop right now, and notice your breathing, your posture, and your heart rate. If you hold your breath or have shallow breathing you are one of the 80% of people who have E-mail Apnea (alternatively called Screen Apnea).

Linda Stone, one of the technology industry’s great visionaries, coined the phrase in her 2008 article  when she began to notice her own breath holding. She went on to see if others did the same thing through extensive research, with some fascinating results. When one holds their breath, several things happen. It increases stress levels because there is no exhale, and the exhale is what lessens the stress response and generates the relaxation response. This also impacts our view of the world, sense of well-being and effectiveness.

In another article, “Why Email Can be Habit Forming,” Stone researched the impact of stress and found that when one is stressed they revert to familiar or unconscious behaviors and routines. That is why it can be very difficult to break a habit because “the part of our brain associated with decision-making and goal-directed behaviors shrinks and the brain regions associated with habit formation grow when we're under chronic stress.”

For example she states, “Stressed rats will compulsively press a bar for food pellets, even when they have no intention of eating.” This compulsive behavior could also include checking email every ten minutes, going on Facebook when working on a research paper, and texting and driving,” all behaviors that are contributed to the distraction addiction so many teens suffer from, and they are not the only ones. How many of you find yourself setting goals to use technology less, focus on singular tasks, and stop playing Candy Crush, only to find yourself impulsively doing these things. Luke Venebles in a response to Linda Stone’s article Conscious Computing wrote, “the constant allure of checking to see if someone has replied to my email is a bit more powerful than me at the moment.”

Why do we hold our breath or breathe shallowly when we are in front of a screen? One reason is that when sitting at a computer or using a digital device we are usually in a position with our arms extended and shoulders forward compressing the diaphragm so that it is difficult to get a full inhale and exhale, thus shallow breathing. The other reason is that there is often anticipation involved, which begins with an inhale but the exhale rarely follows which alerts the Sympathetic Nervous System, or the Fight, Flight or Freeze Response. The nervous system goes on high alert, ready for danger, thus creating stress in the body, among other things.

A recent study at Baylor University found that female college students spend 10 hours a day on the cell phone, boys slightly less at 8 hours a day. If students are holding their breath or experiencing shallow breathing for much of this time, it means that they are in high alert stress response much of the day. In another post I will share the research on teens, technology and anxiety, but the simple act of breathing could be one of the remedies for the effect technology is having not only on teens, but the entire population, including you.

The essential remedy is to teach college students to become more mindful of their computing behaviors and remember to breathe. When one takes deep breaths through the nose they fill the lungs and make more space in the body, and the longer they take to exhale through the nose, the more time the body has to go into relaxation response. Simply becoming aware of one’s posture and breath, while sitting at a computer or on an iPhone can cause one to sit up straight and start breathing, thus beginning to reverse some of the effects of Email Apnea.

There are technologies that help us become aware of our breathing, of our attention, or our stress levels. Huffington Post's GPS for the Soul is an app that measures heart rate and heart rate variability. In combination these inform the user of their stress level. The app includes guides to help one self correct, or move from flight, fright or freeze to well-being, along with a breathing pacer. One of the most helpful aspects for me is the intermittent reminders to check in with oneself and breathe. 

Mindfulness practices like meditation, yoga and walking in nature alone are other ways to allow the parasympathetic nervous system to dominate, allowing for more tranquility and calm. Another benefit of these practices is they are done off the grid which gives the mind, body and soul a break from the digital world.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Teens and Technology

Teens and Technology are wedded. They go hand in hand… iPhone to iPhone… and much of what one hears about is only about the dangers and negative aspects of this marriage, which are valid and well documented. But, there are also positive occurrences as teens themselves attempt to remedy these issues.

Teens from Milton Academy are making a difference in light of the tragic death of their friend Merritt Levitan with the campaign, “TextLess Live More.” Merritt, on a cross-country bike trip, died when a texting driver hit her. In honor of Merritt’s memory and to fight against this deadly habit, students at Milton Academy began to institute a day a month where all technology was suspended for the day. In their words, “Our goal is to decrease excessive phone use and encourage people to disconnect from the virtual world and reattach themselves to the real world. Hopefully, our practice of “disconnecting” will translate to more substantial real-world relationships and also prevent dangerous habits like texting and driving.” At present there are 50 other schools and colleges participating. The goal this year is 500, and the kick off is October 6. The Merritt’s Waywebsite has specific instructions for students who wish to institute "TextLess, Live More" Days in their own schools or colleges. One can learn about this on Facebook as well.

When teens themselves ask their peers to become aware, evaluate and moderate their technology habits and behaviors, it can be a very effective campaign for change. At this point, it is not an older generation instructing a younger one, but rather a group of peers putting their beliefs and values into action with their friends and classmates.

This proactive approach to the deadly consequences of texting and driving is a superb model for seeking remedies to other issues, concerns and questions about teens and their use of technology. In essence the proactive statement could be "Live More." Ben Snyder, Head of the Upper School at Noble and Greenough School made an interesting comment by expanding on the TextLess, Live More theme. He said, “I kept coming back to thinking that if we all texted (and “teched”) less, we would all live more (and better).

We need solutions, and I believe we are going to find them, oftentimes from teens themselves which includes ways for teens to use mindfulness and present moment living to counteract some of the ways technology alters the present into mindless distractions. Thus the statement "Live More" could be expanded to Live More in the Moment.

In my newly named Teens and Technology Blog, the nouns teens and technology go together when we look at teens’ relationship with technology and the propensity for some of their lives to be controlled or governed by these digital devices. Technology and cell phone addiction is on the rise, as well as the negative impact such use can have on teens’ attention, memory, multi-tasking,anxiety, depression and an inability to communicate face to face compounded by the excessive use of texting.

In a recent article, “Is Technology Making Your Children Mindless Instead of Mindful?” Jim Taylor, an expert on teens and technology, states that moments of full engagement in an experience in life bring the greatest happiness, while distracted moments such as those when we are in our technology and not present are not only not as happy, but “even worse, in their always-connected, constantly distracted lives, children may not learn what real happiness is and where it comes from,” and he goes on to say, “Children have come to mistake stimulation, momentary pleasure, and that neurochemical high gained from being always connected for real happiness.” Thus, more research points to mindfulness techniques, flow experiences and positive technology as an anecdote to the distraction addictions of technology.

It seems clear that there are many concerns, worries, and alarming statistics about technology, but there are also strategies, counterbalances and hope for this distraction addiction that has become ubiquitous in today’s youth culture.