(As published in Liv Magazine)

A rise in cases of internet addiction might make you look at your smartphone a little differently.

By Kate Springer

Walk down any street in Hong Kong and you’ll notice the same scene: thousands of adults and children walking around with their eyes fixated on a smartphone. When not checking their phones, most Hongkongers are glued to a computer screen at work, playing games on a tablet at home, reading on an e-reader or watching a movie on a TV screen.

NO PHONES ALLOWED: OFFGRID PARTICIPANTS CHECK THEIR DEVICES IN AT THE DOOR

“When I was in Switzerland on a trip with my parents, we were at dinner and everyone in my family had their phones on the table and were absorbed in Whatsapp or posting photos to social media”, he recalls. “I looked around and no one else was on their phone. That’s how the idea came about”. OffGrid is all about letting go of technology and putting your phone away – literally handing it over – for a weekend. “I got a few heart-touching messages afterward from people saying they felt like they had a 10-day holiday, even though it was only two days”.

But why does it take such a concerted effort to put down the screens? Zaidi says there are all kinds of psychological reasons we’re so attached to technology. For some, she says it’s the fear of missing out, of falling behind on news articles or viral YouTube videos. But, she says, “Information overload increases your anxiety, and being at the receiving end of constant information isn’t helpful”.

Others find the online space open and inviting, where people can be themselves and overcome social anxiety. Unsurprisingly, social media has its own special place in the world of technology addiction, as validation from Facebook likes or Instagram followers can impact a sense of identity and self-worth.

Increasingly, many people use technology as an escape mechanism. “There are a lot of people here who are quite lonely, especially the expat moms who come here with their husbands and suddenly find themselves at a loss and with too much time on their hands”, says Dr. Zaidi. “For someone who is really unhappy, has social anxiety or is slightly depressed, these online platforms give them a form of escape”.

Others turn to technology to avoid responsibilities, whether it’s a crying baby or an uncomfortable conversation. “It becomes problematic when there’s lack of communication between couples, or parents and children, because they are so dependent or absorbed in their screens”, she adds.

Technology is of course a remarkable tool, but Dr Zaidi warns against letting it become your life. “There are so many opportunities in real life”, she says. “You don’t need to spend it looking at a screen”.

It’s bad for your health, too! In addition to your mental health, excessive screen time can also tax your body, leading to…

Back and neck problems

Poor posture associated with long hours logged at a computer can lead to back and neck pain down the line. “Text Neck” is also becoming a problem; bending your head down to peer at your screen increases pressure on your cervical spine.

Vision issues

Excessive screen time is leading to an increase in near-sightedness, not to mention dry eyes, headaches and light sensitivity. Be sure to look away from your screen regularly.

Disrupted Sleep 

Studies have shown that staring at the blue light of a phone or laptop screen can make it harder to fall asleep and mess with your body clock. Apps like fl.ux can automatically warm the colour tone of your screen in the evening – or better yet, put down your phone altogether a couple of hours before bed.

(source: healthline.com)

Digital Toolbox

Before you unplug for good, try out these life-saving apps that will actually help you minimise your tech time.

Moments: This app is both awesome and awful at the same time. When you log on, it keeps track of the cumulative time you and your family have spent on your phones. You can also set daily limits to keep yourself in check should you need some boundaries.

Headspace: A digital meditation specialist, Headspace is a beautifully designed app that walks you through the basics of meditation as well as more advanced practices. Use it to clear your head, find some clarity or simply to help you fall asleep at night.

Am I Addicted? 

Run through this 10-point questionnaire. If you find yourself agreeing to four or more of these statements, you need to revisit your relationship with technology.

  1. Do you stay online longer than you expected more and more often?
  2. Do you ignore and avoid other work or activities to spend more time on-screen?
  3. Do you often check messages or emails before doing something else you need to do, even delaying meals?
  4. Do you frequently get annoyed or irritable if someone bothers you when you are trying to do something online or on your phone?
  5. Do you prefer to spend time with people online or through messaging rather than being with them face to face?
  6. Do you think a lot about when you can get back online when you are offline?
  7. Do you argue with, or feel criticised by friends, partners or family about the amount of time you spend online?
  8. Do you get excited, anticipating when you can next get online, and also thinking about what you will do?
  9. Do you prefer on-screen activities now to going out and doing something else?
  10. Do you hide, or become defensive about what you do online?

Courtesy of Dr.  Quratulain Zaidi

Read the original article HERE

Dr. Quratulain Zaidi (BSc. Hons, MSc, MSc, PhD) is a mother and a member of the British Psychological Society and British Association Counselling & Psychotherapy and abides by the Ethical Framework for Good Practice in Counselling and Psychology. She has lived in Hong Kong and Singapore for 12 years.  She specialises in assisting families with issues including parenting, teen issues, Cybersafety,  marriage guidance, post natal depression, stress and anxiety disorders, depression, bullying, eating disorders, OCD and self-harm. She is an expert in educational assessments and learning challenges in children, for example ADHD, ADD, Dyslexia and ASD.