We are all talking about and at the same time avoiding the realities of smartphone addiction. A big part of addiction, after all, is to deny we HAVE an addiction and to keep the truth at a distance so we can enjoy our addiction without guilt. I will attempt to avoid making this article a rant against cell phones or a “shame on you” thing, and I want you to know that even though I work hard on raising my conscious awareness of everything I do and say in Life, I am probably just as addicted to using/checking my cell phone as you are. And I’m worried. About all of us. About our society as a whole. I teach meditation, which teaches us how to be present. But we are distracted. Pulled away from the NOW into an imaginary universe of connection that is not here and now but rather suspended in a small rectangular box, ready to grab our attention any time we reach to grab IT.
In the first days of creating AmaTierra, our wellness center here in Costa Rica, there were only flip-phones. My husband Bob and I shared one, only used it when we were out of the hotel, and kept it ‘til 2 years ago, when it became impossible to avoid buying a supposedly “smart” phone.
In those early days, circa 2006, guests would come to our retreat center and engage in conversation, take walks on our forest trails, read books made of paper and be so happy to be away from their busy, stressful lives. In fact, it’s the reason we built AmaTierra to begin with: (you can read our story here if you like: https://www.amatierra.com/about-us/ ) Living in the USA, teaching yoga and treating people with massage and herbal medicine, I was seeing people get increasingly more stressed out, depressed and anxious. And this was BEFORE smartphones and computer use began taking over our lives! So my husband Bob and I decided to create an oasis, a place where people could come and de-stress, pause and truly relax for a week and reap the benefits of this incredibly healing jungle setting. And it worked. And we have been helping people for 13+ years now. In around 2010 we installed a computer in the lobby for guest use and limited it to 15 minutes per person. To this day we do not have wi-fi in our rooms (which really freaks out some techno-addicts!) and only have it available in the lobby.
But what is different about these days and the guests who arrive here, is the stress level, which is now much higher than it was back then, and very few are able to really “unplug” when they come here*though of course we don’t expect guests to avoid their phones completely). Many SAY they are relaxing here, and probably they are, relatively speaking, but what we try to achieve here at AmaTierra is a true time-out from everything, and, sadly, we still see many guests sitting by the pool for hours staring at their phones.
This heightened stress is all because of technology. Technology that affects our peace of mind, our happiness, our health and our overall well-being. Stay with me here, please….I promise I’ll get to what we can do about it soon…because it’s true. And it’s proven. And I think we need to face it: Smartphone and computer addiction make us more anxious, quicker to anger, tired and depressed, creating a ripple of negativity in the workplace and at home, and on the planet, I think! You might ask, how does using my cell phone actually create all this?
Well, when you use your cell phone, or even when you hear it or SEE it, your brain sends a signal to your adrenal glands to produce a stress hormone called Cortisol. It’s part of our sympathetic “fight or flight” nervous system. ,” David Greenfield, founder of the Center for Internet and Technology Addiction, https://virtual-addiction.com/ said in an interview with the New York Times. “It’s a stress response, and it feels unpleasant, and the body’s natural response is to want to check the phone to make the stress go away.” The problem is, the stress goes away for only a few minutes and then returns, and we have to look at the phone again. An endless cycle begins, and that cycle keeps us in a constant state of stress. Of course, Google knows this, and recently reported “that “mobile devices loaded with social media, email and news apps” create “a constant sense of obligation, generating unintended personal stress.” Pretty good setting for lots of marketing, right? But that’s another blog…
So what happens when we’re in this cycle of constant stress, looking at our phones, thinking about looking at our phones, and all this cortisol is running through our bodies? Well, your Being becomes ripe for developing serious health problems such as depression, chronic anxiety, obesity, metabolic syndrome, Type 2 diabetes, fertility issues, chronic fatigue syndrome, high blood pressure, heart attack, dementia and stroke. Just to name a few (ahem).
In my practice as an herbalist I am seeing a huge increase in people with anxiety, especially young people who have virtually grown up with these devices. And people are not sleeping. One of the first things you can do to help yourself is to keep your cell phone OUT OF THE BEDROOM and resist looking at it in bed at all in the morning.
Aside from the Cortisol stressing us out, a very real threat to our health are the radiation waves that bombard our brains and nervous systems. I for one get extremely tired after just one hour of sitting at the computer. And this is not just a problem for us adults. In fact, children are at an even higher risk of developing health and behavioral problems from cell phone use because they have thinner tissues and bones than adults have and much less protection for their brains. It’s no wonder that Sweden banned cell phone use by children under 14 years old. Other countries such as France, Japan, Taiwan and Australia limit phone use, many banning cell phones from schools.
Anxiety and ADHD are more prevalent in children who use cell phones, and childhood obesity is soaring from addicted children sitting and staring at screens. Results of a 2016 Common Sense Media Report found that “50 percent of teens “feel addicted” to mobile devices, while 59 percent of parents surveyed believe that kids are addicted to their devices. … 95 percent of teens have access to a smartphone.” I personally cringe when I see toddlers being entertained with mommy’s cell phone in their little hands.
All right! All right! So WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT IT? Well, first, let’s find out if you are addicted to your cell phone. If you’re not sure, visit this web site to see the 12 warning signs of technology addiction: https://virtual-addiction.com/warning-signs-of-internet-addiction/ You can also take a test there, to see if you fall into the category of a compulsive cellphone user.
Second, I highly recommend putting stick-on EMF protectors on your cellphone and computer to minimize the non-ionized radio waves that bombard us when we use our devices. I personally also use a medallion that I wear around my neck that is full of negative ions (the calming, healing charge that protects your body from the EMF’s. You can purchase these for around $25 US. Mine is a black tourmaline pendant I bought on Amazon from a company called Quanthor. See them at emfshieldprotect.com. I feel a huge difference when I wear this necklace. I don’t feel the fatigue.
But what about our habits? Our addiction to the cell phone? How do we stop it? We all know it’s a device we believe we can’t live without, and it is certainly very useful, so it’s not likely we will just stop using it.
Here are some recommendations that can help change your habits and reduce your stress:
- Track your cellphone use. Keep a little notebook handy to record how often you look at it in a day, and how long you use it in total.
- Start the weaning process. Create a schedule for yourself and stick to it! Tell your friends “I only check my phone x times per day. If it’s urgent, CALL ME.
- Commit to being in the moment. When thoughts of “Oh, I should check my phone” come, focus on the activity you are doing RIGHT NOW, and decide that this is more important. And take 3 deep breaths to affirm this.
- Be aware that because we all want “connection” you are being sucked in to a fake universe of “friends” in cyberspace, and of course you will respond to them in time, but recognize it is not a REALTIME connection. And when you’re WITH friends, decide not to check your phone during visits.
- Turn it off and turn off NOTIFICATION SOUNDS that keep you hooked. Don’t use your phone during meal times. Decide NOT to use it at least 1 hour before bed time and leave it OUT of the bedroom so you can have a good night’s sleep.
- Remember that technology works for us, not the other way around. We do not have to be slaves to our computers and cell phones.
- Develop a daily practice of Yoga and Meditation and if thoughts come into your head about your cell phone, try creating an affirmation that can change the habit. Follow it with three deep slow breaths.
I hope this blog has been useful for you. When you come to AmaTierra, we hope you will already have changed some of the habits that are harming your health, and that you can at least mostly unplug and enjoy the magnificent Energy of the Moment that is here for you.
Jill Ruttenberg, RH, Co-Owner & Wellness Director of AmaTierra Retreat & Wellness Center in Costa Rica, is a professional nutritionist, certified practitioner of Traditional Chinese Medicine, and clinical herbalist registered with the American Herbalist Guild. She is also an experienced massage therapist, energy healer and Hatha yoga instructor. The Wellness Center at AmaTierra is Jill’s living dream, the fruition of decades of training, practice and experience in natural medicine and the healing arts.