Christine Carter, Ph.D.

There’s this myth that disaster will strike if we’re not wired at all times. But we forget that constant connectivity is a new phenomenon -- and it brings with it a new kind of energy-sapping stress and anxiety. A 2006 study by a University of London psychologist even found that people distracted by texting and emailing temporarily decreased their IQs by an average of more than 10 points -- similar to losing a night’s sleep, and twice the effect of smoking marijuana.

Our mothers certainly felt free to run to the store and be out of touch for an hour. But many of us panic at that thought. So how can you stop feeling frantic and regain your freedom? The solution is to unplug -- literally. Here's how I try to free myself from technology overload (and the same techniques I suggest to my clients):

Go tech-free for at least an hour

Create designated periods every day in which you cannot check email or answer your phone. Start small, perhaps choosing one hour in the morning when you are not reachable. Ideally, you will be able to wean yourself down to checking your email or blog comments or returning phone calls just twice a day at certain limited times.

Don’t feel obligated to respond right away

If you run out of time replying to email, finish tomorrow. It’s amazing how the world doesn’t end if you don’t return every message instantly.

Do one thing at a time.

The other key is to stop multi-tasking. Stop reading your email while you’re talking to your friend on the phone or texting while you’re helping your kids with homework. Research shows that it takes more time and energy to do two activities at once, because your brain has to switch back and forth. It’s inefficient and exhausting -- and certainly contributes to that overloaded feeling.

I've found that people feel relief from information overload after trying these simple strategies for just a few days. Once you’re out of the habit of multitasking and have gotten used to the idea that you don’t have to be constantly connected, you’ll find that life is more peaceful, and you’ll feel happy more often. 

Christine Carter, Ph.D., is a sociologist at the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley and the author of Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents.


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