game-changers

Are you taking care of yourself? A short guide to reversing screen related brain impairment

Guy Turner

As a male in my 30s I’ve probably taken a pretty narrow view on my personal wellbeing, predominantly because I see so many of the elements of it to be a chore.  Fitness was great when it involved competitive sport…for me now it is far less thrilling when shot knees have restricted me to swim, gym, bike. Likewise with diet, cooking is my primary hobby. Juicing kale is not cooking. Reducing alcohol intake…please…

Mental health is something I’m probably a bit more attuned to, but once again, if things are sliding the fixes need to be authentic to me and sustainable.  One of the big signals for me that I’m not in an optimal mental place is lack of motivation, which often manifests itself too much ipad screen time, especially with familiar, escapist style games. For me that’s poker or euro-boardgame ports, for over 100 million worldwide it is candycrush, or clones thereof.

Like many office workers, I spend up to 8hrs a day on a computer. If I am then coming home and doing likewise then I might as well be in the matrix. One thing which really brought the issue home to me was watching the reaction of a friend’s 2yr old when the iPad was taken away; epic tantrum ending the moment it was handed back. Apparently that is termed an ‘i-Paddy’ and is now representing one of the fastest growing issues in child psychology. Personally, I find myself irritable, subject to poor prioritization, sleep impaired and with sore eyes if I spend too much time on screen…but the reality is far more concerning.

High levels of screen addiction have been shown in numerous studies to cause

  • Grey matter atrophy including to the insula (empathy, compassion, emotion)
  • Compromised white matter integrity
  • Reduced cortical thickness
  • Impaired cognitive function
  • Cravings & impaired dopamine function (dopamine is a neurotransmitter which helps regulate the brain’s reward and pleasure centres – it is also the compound released through use of cocaine)  

For more on this see Victoria L Dunckley’s article in Psychology today http://tinyurl.com/kb8eapm

Thankfully, we can consciously make the choice to replace controllable screentime with other activities which provide positive outcomes for frontal lobe function, mood and dopamine release. Some of this fits into the mindfulness mode, which is a theme we will continue to explore in future blogs, but for now I’ll just have a look at some of the things which work for me and those around me.

A major thematic here is a return to some childhood favorites, but with a distinctly modern twist. The other thematic is it is likely that at some part of your life you will have found all of these things to be particularly daggy – but my challenge to you is to retry them and see if they now resonate with you, with plenty of choices aiding your mental health definitely doesn’t need to be a chore.

Build something

If model glue and acrylic paints aren’t for you, then maybe adult lego is the solution.  It can come with a hefty price tag (Opera house is $399), but a great sense of achievement and something for the mantelpiece…unlike IKEA though, I suggest following the rules   

Do a quiz

Quizzes are one of the staples in our household.  The Adelaide Advertiser publishes a good one in SA Weekend each Saturday called brainwaves available online at www.adelaidenow.com.au/saweekend (warning: there are a few uniquely South Australian questions each edition). The other thing we have taken to doing is buying trivial pursuit genuses and doing the questions together rather than using the board and competing.

Best of all, get some mates together and get down the pub for a midweek pub quiz, or support a charity quiz night.

Garden

I always associated gardening with weeds until I saw what a couple of very creative friends were doing with theirs – a combination of horticulturalism and outdoor design, gardens big or small are great for seeing (and eating) the fruits of your labour, as well as improving your aesthetical surrounds and property value.

The one Tasch and I are keen on is the vertical garden – great for decorating fencelines or for those with limited space

Jigsaw

Well, of course we were going to include this, but adult jigsaws are experiencing a renaissance in Australia, with Ravensberger reporting sales up 300% YOY. Yes, jigsaws have been proven to stave off dementia in the elderly, and assist children with concentration and motor skills, but for the rest of us it’s just a great way to unwind after a long day at the screen with a glass of wine, debrief, decompress and enjoy the hunt.

What’s more, at $49.95 each you can have 8 of them for the price of that lego Opera House! :)


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