The Never-ending Scroll

Not only have digital devices brought the world at our fingertips but also opened a pandora’s box for us. and, even though it’s too late to close this box now, the least we can do is put it away for a while. elaborating on the reason to do so, Priya Chaphekar talks to experts about dealing with digital stress.

Smartphones are supposed to make us smarter, but unfortunately, it has become quite the other way round. The more the apps available at our convenience, the more difficult it is for us to digitally unplug. When we step out and take a look around, we see a group of friends at the mall, couples sitting next to each other in a park, a row of ladies in the train compartment, the hot guy at the gym and the cute girl in the lift. And what do they all have in common? A smartphone. No matter where you are, with who you are at whatever hour, you or the people around you are always hooked on hardware.
“On many fronts, technology is a boon. It has made our lives easier, more joyous and exciting. However, too much of anything can have its own repercussions. Technology is now intertwined with our lives to an extent where it almost seems inseparable. The so-called ‘digital era’ has turned us all into ‘smart slaves’. This unfathomable affinity towards smart devices and internet has paved way for a new complication called ‘digital stress’,” explains Luke Coutinho, Integrative and Lifestyle Medicine, Holistic Nutrition and Founder,

Brain drain

Cognitive neuroscience clearly recognises that the prefrontal cortex (PFC) is responsible for logic, correlating action to consequence, numerical and verbal abilities. It also renders to a variety of complex functions such as personality expression, decision making, and moderation of social behaviour. “The PFC functions best after a full night of good quality sleep, when not stressed, hungry or in any other state of deprivation or heightened emotion. This peak of PFC functioning, when you are your most logical self, lasts a maximum of three hours in an average person and experiences a decline through the day as you get tired and stressed. When people choose to stick to their smartphones during breaks to read, play competitive games, engage in trolls, face other aggression online, etc., the slide in cognitive ability is even faster. Switching between work tasks to check mobile phone notifications also contributes to stress. However, if you use your smartphone during planned breaks for light-hearted socialising with people you like, or listening to music you enjoy, it will certainly help in reviving some of the PFC ‘power’,” explains Madhuri, Founder and Lifestyle Coach,
Remember the time you checked your phone to see something and before you knew it was already two in the morning? “Addictive, compulsive behaviour around digital devices is counterproductive, while giving us the impression of being busy. It can significantly eat up the time we could use to rest, relax and do other productive tasks that are crucial for our overall health and well-being,” points Madhuri.

Love me ‘like’ you do

Picture this: You feel really miserable when you wake up in the morning; so you decide to upload a smoking hot picture from your recent trip to Maldives. And by early evening, you’re splashing around in a shower of compliments, on a happy high. “The human mind is trained or conditioned by rewards and penalties. The phone offers constant rewards by means of likes and followers. Each notification presents the potential of another, inducing a surge of dopamine (associated with feelings of happiness) or adrenaline (primarily associated with excitement). If you are expecting messages from a romantic love interest, you are served a cocktail of multiple pleasurable endorphins, phenethylamine, dopamine and adrenaline. But when your expectations are not met, you get instantly stressed, unable to focus on another productive task at hand,” highlights Madhuri.
When we spend long hours on social media, we often evaluate ourselves based on the number of likes we’ve received, resulting in depression, anxiety and low self-esteem. “Many teenagers who spend time on Instagram keep wishing they could lead the colourful lives their friends are leading—the posts give an impression that the other person’s life is perfect, even if that may not really be the case,” shares Divya Srivastava, Counselling Psychologist, Life Coach and Founder, The Silver Lining Wellness Centre, Mumbai.
Thanks to the countless apps on social media, there is a compulsive need to portray or project relationships in a certain way, no matter how imperfect they are in real life. “I have so many clients coming to me and telling me that they want to work on their relationship, even when there is nothing wrong with it. They think that their relationship is in danger because they don’t post as many pictures together or their spouses don’t express their love through elaborate posts,” states Divya.

Clinically speaking

Our eyes are continuously glued to the laptop, mobile or the television screen. We have mastered the art of multitasking phenomenally. Staring at radiating screens with such concentration adversely affects the blinking rate. “Blinking is a crucial process as it allows the moisture to spread evenly across our eyes. When you blink less and less, the moisture evaporates faster than it can be replaced, causing dry eyes. It can also lead to irritation, eye fatigue and even blurry vision,” warns Luke.
The radiation coming from the mobile screen is largely blue light, which reaches all the way to the tiny light receptors in the retina of the eyes. Prolonged exposure can cause damage to the eyes, significantly affecting your vision.
Studies show that using a digital device before bedtime can negatively impact the amount and quality of your sleep. “Our bodies produce a hormone called melatonin when it gets dark, to prepare for a good night’s sleep. After sunset, our bodies naturally start producing this sleeping hormone. However, when our eyes are continuously interacting with the bright displays, the melatonin production is disrupted. Hence, we find it difficult to sleep well in the night. A good sleep resets our body and is extremely essential. Not being able to sleep further aggravates the digital stress,” stresses Luke.
Consulting Ophthalmic Surgeon, Dr Anagha Anil Heroor advises, “Computer glasses with blue-blocking lenses; coatings and filters are also good solutions for those working on a computer for long periods. You can also add anti-glare coatings with blue-light protection to your regular glasses or sunglasses.” Additionally, there are filters available to reduce the amount of blue-light radiation that can reach your eyes. “The easiest way to reduce blue light exposure is to take frequent breaks when working on a computer and to reduce the overall screen time. There is a 20-20-20 rule—take a break every 20 minutes, and look at a distance of 20 feet for at least 20 seconds,” she adds. This will help relieve eye strain. Practise palming and invest in a quality cool gel eye mask and lubricant eye drops to reduce the dryness in the eyes.

Overcoming the addiction

Luke encourages smartphone addicts to build a bond with their surroundings. “Be observant of the world around instead of being lost in the phone. Spare a few minutes into meditation. It will not only lower your stress level, but also make you more focused and positive,“ says Luke. He further adds, “When you are at peace, you are less likely to be distracted by gadgets. While this may be difficult, the magic word is ‘discipline’. Start with an hour daily wherein you will not look into your cell phone. The hour before bedtime is the best time to do this.”
It’s important to give your eyes a break every 20 minutes. “For a few minutes, keep those devices aside and close your eyes. Let the natural eye fluid lubricate your eye. Splash some cool water in your eyes to get rid of the irritation and fatigue. Also, avoid holding the devices too close to the eyes. Additionally, keep your body nourished with vitamins, especially vitamin A as it promotes eye health,” concludes Luke.

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