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Disconnect To Reconnect

by Jill Tucker, LPC-S

Digital vs. Real Human Connection: The case for why disconnecting is so important for our relationships and health.

Let’s Get Real

Our phones are a necessary part of life and will only continue to become increasingly more important in our everyday functioning as time goes on. Just about 12 years ago I remember receiving my fist cell phone. You know, the first Nokia with interchangeable covers? I thought it was the coolest thing ever and texting, social media and the internet weren’t even options back then. Now, I probably text more than I talk and thank goodness I’m still grandfathered into the unlimited data plan with AT&T!

If I started a log tracking how much I text, talk, send emails, browse Facebook, read the news or listen to music on my phone in public, I would probably find that the majority of the time I’m disconnected from real human contact and fully connected with the digital world.

I’m that person.

Embarrassingly so, I am completely addicted to anything digital and provides quick, instantaneous feedback on anything I want to know about. The sad part is, I don’t know where I’d be without it. My business thrives online, it’s my main form of communication with friends and family and helps me with my terrible sense of direction.

Technology has grown at a rapid pace and with it there are bound to be negative affects on our relational and physical health.

In fact, in a recent article posted in The New York Times by Barbara Fredrickson, Your Phone vs. Your Heart, the author draws a connection between our biological capacity to connect with people and the convenience of instant electronic access. She and a team of other researchers found that just as our muscles atrophy if we are not physically active, our brain, if not engaging in true human connection can lose its capacity to connect. Ultimately resulting in reshaping the way our brain and cardiovascular system operate.

The researchers conducted lengthy studies on the effects of learning skills for cultivating warmer interpersonal connections in daily life and found that those participants and mediators that were involved in the six-week workshops aimed at developing “lovingkindness,” actually altered a key part of their cardiovascular system. This area, called the vagal tone, is associated with our ability to tune into the human voice and recognize facial expressions.

Believe it or not, when the vagal tone is operating at its optimal level, it helps to regulate and keep our different internal systems healthy AND when we increase our vagal tone, we increase our capacity for connection, friendship and empathy.

The findings are eye-opening.

For one, when we practice techniques to deepen our ability to attune to others and exercise compassion we increase our vagal tone which then results in our bodies running better and more smoothly. Likewise, by increasing our vagal tone we become more connected, friendly, caring, loving and aware of others around us.

Take Action!

Resisting the urge to walk around with your phone out at all times is challenging.  However, making it a point to connect with your loved ones, acquaintances or strangers face-to-face is a necessary for your continued health and happiness. Make eye contact, share a smile, laugh together and disagree (in constructive ways of course).

Remember to use technology in moderation and recognize when you can set the example for others around you and put your phone away, on silent or just turn it off. That email can wait, Google isn’t going anywhere and your friends on Facebook, well they’ll still be there when you sign back on.

If you’re a parent, take the time to create technology-free times in your house. Set boundaries with your young ones when it comes to iPad use and create a plan with your teenagers that can help them learn to regulate their usage as well. This doesn’t have to be dramatic and I’m not advocating for no technology use with children by any means, I’m just challenging you to think about when it’s necessary and when it becomes excessive.

This balance is a difficult one for me, but understanding exactly what is happening, on a deeper, physiological level has inspired me to take an honest look and redefine how I use my phone or other electronic devices. How it gets in the way on a daily basis and might even be affecting my children’s children’s capacity to connect.

“When you share a smile or laugh with someone face to face, a discernible synchrony emerges between you, as your gestures and biochemistries, even your respective neural firings, come to mirror each other. It’s micro-moments like these, in which a wave of good feeling rolls through two brains and bodies at once, that build your capacity to empathize as well as to improve your health.”

Although our phones provide positive feedback and allows us to stay connected at all times, it also acts as a huge barrier for authentic social connection. I’m committed to making a conscious effort to regulate my digital interaction, are you?

Jessica Pass-Haskell

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