Help, I Need Tech Rehab!

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The Telegraph – 17th October 2016 – Help, I Need Tech Rehab!

One in three adults now checks their phone in the middle of the night. Anna Magee was among them, until she took a technology detox deep inside the Dorset countryside…

In AA, the first step towards recovery is said to be admitting you are addicted to alcohol. I realised my addiction to my smartphone was out of control when on holiday in Crete with my mother this summer. Having spent the bulk of the holiday Instagram-ing or Facebook-ing every conversational, weather or scenery highlight when I was supposed to be relaxing, Mum pulled me up and said: “I thought you were on holiday with me, not your phone?”

She lives in Australia and I rarely see her, yet I was only half there. I was checking my phone before bed, in the middle of the night, when I woke in the morning and about 50 times during the day. I made efforts to leave it in my room, but realised that without it I felt anxious, out of touch and empty. Technology addiction is real, and its wreaking havoc on our mental health. One in three UK adults is so enslaved to their phone that they regularly check it in the middle of the night, according to a recent survey by management consultancy Deloitte. Canadian researchers recently reported on a survey showing those who use the internet excessively show high levels of anxiety, problems with time management and planning, and “greater levels of attentional impulsivity”. Er, guilty.

At the Nightingale Psychiatric Hospital in London, the first UK centre to offer a dedicated internet addiction outpatient programme, medical director Dr Richard Graham has seen a rise in over-40s turning up with symptoms similar to mine, sleep disturbances most common among them. “Overuse of technology is almost always related to anxiety or depression,” he says. “But so many ordinary activities are organised through your smartphone – shopping, music, entertainment, banking and newsfeeds – so our challenge is to help people use them in a way that keeps them happy and sleeping well, too.”

MRI scans show that online activity stimulates dopamine, the brain’s pleasure and reward-seeking neurotransmitter, in the same way as gambling or drugs, says Dr Graham. “Getting likes on a Facebook post or retweets on Twitter surges dopamine in the brain, which is why people check their social media so incessantly.”

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