Unplugging: Avoid an Internet Addiction

Internet addiction disorder and internet usage disorder are now recognized issues in today’s society. Because of work and school, it is nearly a requirement to have internet access and computers in our homes, plus a smartphone with a data plan in our pockets. Many projects and assignments cannot be completed without doing online research or communicating with coworkers or group members via email or instant messaging. In a world that is becoming increasingly connected by computers and the internet, how can we avoid the time trap that they can become?

Plopping down in front of a computer, watching TV, or playing a video game is easy, which is why one can slip into an internet usage disorder. But, you don’t want to miss life because you wasted it in front of a computer. Memories should be about the times you spent with family and friends. If you recognize that you may have an internet usage problem, try some of these tips and tricks for reducing the time you spend online. For adolescents and young adults, developing healthy habits early can set them up for success and avoid issues in the future.

  • Find a new hobby or activity. The key: the hobby does not involve the computer, internet, TV, video games, cell phones – well, you get the idea. Has photography always interested you? Grab a camera, go outside, and be creative. Join local clubs or sports leagues, take art classes, or attend community events. Rediscover your love of books. Exercise is known to have positive mental and emotional effects; learn yoga, or get friends together to do a mud run. Grab a skateboard or a bike. Learn to snowboard.
  • Do your homework. It can be so easy to get home from school and turn on the TV or surf your favorite websites. But before you know it, an hour or two has passed, and that homework pile is still waiting. Get it done early, and then the rest of the day is free. Also, before the internet and Wikipedia, there were libraries. Guess what. They still exist. Try to use books for research and references. Also, studying in the library could help you keep your focus, and the computers restrict access to certain sites.
  • Be more engaged with the people around you. Internet addictions take you away from face-to-face interactions and can cause personal relationships to deteriorate. Call up friends to go hang out at the bowling alley, go on a hike, or see a movie. Help your parents cook dinner, ask a sibling to help you walk the dog, or plan family time. Set up board game nights. Being with others can also help distract from the fact you are not online.
  • Limit your computer time. While this sounds ridiculously simple, it can be one of those things that is easier said than done. People with an internet addiction spend excessive amounts of time online and lose track of time. So, put away the laptop – “hide” it in a closet, and put some sort of cover over your desktop. Whenever you have to use the computer or internet, actively set a time limit and honor it.
  • Step away from the desk. This is everything from taking breaks to do something else (especially when you’re no longer being productive) to not eating at your desk. Breaks are important, an importance that is underscored by the scientific research linking health problems and risks to sedentary lifestyles.
  • Turn off notifications. Is it really that important to know when your best friend posts a new status on Facebook or breaking sports news? How many emails need your immediate attention? With smartphones that have internet access, it becomes even more difficult to escape the call of the Web, and notifications about every new bit of activity mean people constantly go online. These seemingly small distractions could lead to several minutes of browsing time.
  • Install applications that track your online activity or block access. Tracking your activity aids in understanding how you spend your time online, then you can start to change your habits. Other applications can block you from sites after a certain amount of them (which could come in handy if Facebook gets more time than a research paper). Parental controls can be used to block sites with sexual or explicit content, which is one thing that can lead to internet addictions.
  • Have a no-internet day. One blogger realized she had an internet usage problem, so she decided to spend one day a week (a full 24 hours) offline and use that day to do all of the things she enjoyed – from hanging out with friends and family to organizing her home or trying something new. The possibilities are endless. (Truly!) It may seem an extreme step, but just remember this: the World Wide Web has only been around for 20 or so years, and humans survived before it existed.
  • Get your ZZZs. How many hours have you wasted at night by surfing the web or streaming Netflix before you realize it is 2 a.m., and you have to wake up early for school or work? Good quality sleep is important to our health, so setting up a regular sleep schedule will help you avoid spending excess hours online.
  • Build a support system. Once realizing you may have a problem, tell your family and friends about it and what you are trying to do to help yourself. Have them remind you when you are spending too much time online, or ask them to do something with you so that you are not tempted to log on. Support is important whether you choose to make lifestyle changes on your own or if you have sought out- or in-patient treatment.

Employing any of all of these tips is beneficial for anyone with or without an internet usage disorder because they can also aid in avoiding the physical, mental, and emotional side effects of an internet addiction. Weight gain, back or neck pains, eye strain, and carpal tunnel syndrome can affect anyone who sits for prolonged periods of time at a desk and computer.

The Effects of Internet Addiction

Internet addiction is not something to be taken lightly. Beyond the physical ramifications of the sedentary lifestyle resulting from prolonged computer use, studies on internet-addicted young people have also shown negative effects on the brain structures that are involved in emotions, self-control, and decision making, which were similar to effects seen in people with substance addictions. The brain continues to develop until the ages of 25-30, so adolescents and young adults may fall into behavioral addictions more easily.

When You Have an Internet Addiction …

Recognizing internet addiction as a problem is an important first step, and seeking outside help and therapy can be a helpful option to help you regain your life, health, and time when the aforementioned lifestyle changes are not enough. Most importantly, know that you are not alone.  Adults and teens alike are susceptible to the same issue. Like a food addiction, an internet addiction is difficult to cope with because of how much of our everyday tasks may revolve around computers, and given life in the US, many people cannot simply give up using them.

Young people turn to the internet as an outlet for various reasons – social problems, coping issues, depression. Therefore, an in-patient treatment program that addresses all the underlying issues and not just the resulting addiction may be necessary. Wilderness therapy is one such option as it separates a person from the addiction sources and surrounds them with the people and means to aid in recovery and understanding why they abuse the internet. A whole-person wellness approach incorporates a healthy diet, exercise, and therapy with outdoor activities to achieve healing and balance. Students also learn tools and life skills that can be used throughout their lives, so they can be successful once they exit the program.



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