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  • Unplug & Reload

    If you were asked to name a habit that affected you negatively, what would it be? Nail biting, over eating, lack of exercise - or how about looking at your phone / device?

    Looking online, you will see the number of times that someone in the UK checks their phone ranges from 25 times to 150 times per day. Even using the lower threshold that's still 1.5 times per hour taking into account 8 hours sleep per day.

    While we check our phones for different reasons, and different ages check at very different frequencies, the fact that we're generally plugged in and contactable at any time is having quite negative effects on our mental health.

    One of the reasons people check their devices and are on their devices so many times is that is releases the chemical dopamine into our system which essentially is the 'feel good' effect we get after exercising or other pleasurable experiences. Other reasons include FOMO (fear of missing out) or to ensure we're ahead of the game at work.

    But why is this such an issue? Well, Chamath Palihapitiya, former Vice President of User Growth at Facebook admitted "The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops that we have created are destroying how society works". Humans have been designed to be social - it is most likely one of the factors that have caused us to be so successful - however historically our network circle could be up to 150 contacts, now we have access to billions of contacts, and it is this that is causing us the issue.

    So, while there is research out there that informs us about the negative effects of being tied to a smartphone or device, I'd like to now consider how walking in the hills can counter-balance that.

    From my own personal experience, I find it difficult to get a signal in the Cheviot range on my phone anyway, but being a child of the 70's and having never had my first phone until I was 25 years old (and then it was a shared phone with my wife), my dependency on these things are not that strong and so I normally don't struggle with checking my phone regularly.

    I'm going to offer 5 great reasons why getting out in the hills (without connecting to any form of internet or social media platform) can be great for us.

    Powering-down helps remove unhealthy feelings of jealousy, envy, and loneliness. Researchers recently discovered that one in three people felt worse after visiting Facebook and more dissatisfied with their lives. Certainly, not every interaction with Facebook is a negative one. But typically, our own experience validates their research.

    I find that often, people on social media platforms or the internet generally look to promote a particular image that they don't actually live out in real life - a fake image if you will which others then compare against. This can be a very destructive cycle.

    Powering-down combats the fear of missing out. Scientifically speaking, the Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) has been recognised as a recently emerging psychological disorder brought on by the advance of technology. The premise is simple. Our social media streams are ever-filled with everything happening all around us.

    Nowadays, we even see the plates of food our friends are enjoying. And within this constant stream of notification, our fear of being left out continues to grow. Turning off social media and finding contentment in our present space is something that we would do well to do more regularly - walking in the hills is such an amazing way to do this. Quite apart from the huge physical health benefits, you are pretty much guaranteed to get a reduction in anxiety, depression and other mental health 'labels'.

    Solitude is harder to find in an always-connected world. Solitude grounds us to the world around us. It provides the stillness and quiet required to evaluate our lives and reflect on the message in our hearts. We know that the brain processes 400 billion bits of data per second (I mean, who knows how much that is, but it sounds like quite a lot right!) - how to learn to switch this off and just be in the moment is something that is difficult for a huge number of people in today's society.

    In a world where outside noise is coming quicker and louder than ever, the need for solitude becomes more apparent and easier to overlook. What better way to switch off than in nature, where there is natural stimuli to keep you entertained.

    Powering-down promotes creation over consumption. Essentially, most of our time is spent in one of two categories: consuming or creating. Certainly, technology can contribute to creating. For example, this article was written (created) on a computer. But most of the time we spend in front of technology is spent consuming (playing video games, browsing the Internet, watching movies, listening to music). Scientific studies have shown that people can be up to 60% more creative when walking - so that's another excellent reason to get in those hills. If you're wrangling with a problem in your life, you simply have to book on one of our walks!

    Weight loss and well-being using something we are naturally born to do - walk. We already know that stimuli produces dopamine, so why not fill your day with wonderfully natural and interesting information rather than getting anxious that you're not good looking enough, or not having a good enough time just because you saw it on instagram! Let's gain some real achievement in your life - and hey, you actually might become that person that all your peers want to be?

    Spending lots of your time on devices throughout your day is not a healthy way to live your life. I would encourage everyone (including myself to some degree) to start to limit, reduce or wean yourself off your devices - I'm confident your communication will actually improve!