Health Distractions

health distractions

Health Distractions

Identifying why and how you engage with personal technology may be the difference between healthy and destructive behavior. Take a look at your favorite digital distractions — social media, video games, puzzles, television shows, podcasts, news, and spectator sports — and ask yourself whether you are using them as tools to build strength, skills, knowledge, and self-efficacy for the future or for a temporary escape from an uncomfortable reality. If it’s the latter, you may want to reconsider the role these distractions play in your life. If the pain you’re escaping is permanent, no distraction will ever heal it. You must either learn new coping strategies or fundamentally fix what is broken.

When we think about personal technology distractions, we must ensure they continue to serve us. Whether it is helping us get through a difficult time in our lives, or helping us build strength and perseverance for the long-term, continually asking “why am I doing this?” can help make sure we’re getting the most out of our distractions.

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Clinical Systems observers have noted a growing, troubling problem in human technology interaction in health care providers’ electronic distraction; and an ever-growing number of hospital staff who are constantly focused on their Personal Electronic Devices (PEDS) such as smartphones, tablets, etc. The personnel is compelled to constantly check social media, text, check e-mail, and surf the web. This behavior will, of course, impact patient care and increase medical errors. The ECRI has listed electronic distraction as one of the top ten medical technology errors for 2013.

Health care professionals make up a high percentage of PED users with over 80 percent using such smart devices in daily work environments, and the number will only grow as we have universal Electronic Medical Records (EMRs) in our health care facilities. With the ever-present availability of these devices comes the realization that there is a compelling behavior to use them for social interaction and to provide pathways of escape during the workday. A front-page article in the New York Times brought this growing problem into public light in late 2011 and has caused a number of healthcare agencies, professional organizations and hospital systems to address this problem. Medical colleges need to integrate electronic technology interaction education into the undergraduate and graduate curriculum so students and residents can clearly understand how their current, socially acceptable fixation on PEDS impacts their professional lives and patient safety.

An excellent published survey illustrated that even though perfusionists knew that it was wrong to be distracted from monitoring cardiac bypass, 50% admitted to texting during procedures. In a recent study of behavior on patient rounds, residents observed that fellow residents missed clinical information 34% of the time because they were distracted by smartphones. Faculty stated they believed the number was higher at 43%. In that study, residents believed faculty missed 20 percent of clinically relevant information due to this technology. These reports are highly troubling, especially in the realm of health care practice but not surprising.

The lay and business literature are full of reports of decreased productivity with the widespread introduction of computers to the workplace. These distractive behaviors are not limited to the workplace. The ever-rising incidence of both motor vehicle and pedestrian accidents and fatalities caused by texting and electronic distraction reinforces that even basic human survival behaviors are impacted by this technological explosion.

The addictive component of this technology has been greatly understudied and may in many ways parallel how cigarette use was at one time highly, socially accepted behavior; and it took a number of decades to clarify its addictive properties. A key tool for evaluation of alcoholism and addiction has been the CAGE questionnaire, in use since the 1970s as a highly validated tool. Questions were asked for audience response and the responses range from 20% to 50% positive for addiction on each, based on the demographics of the audience. It has been common that younger audiences have scored higher for addiction. This makes intuitive sense in that any trip to a mall would reinforce the observation of young people walking about either fixated on their device or holding it at all times in their right hand. The answers to this tool have been eye-opening to audiences and lead them to review self-behavior. More formal studies need to of course be developed and larger populations of health professionals studied to validate this rise in electronic addiction.

The key to changing such behavior is education. A number of professional societies have begun to address this behavior through guidelines and inclusion in educational meetings and materials. Professional schools and residency programs need to integrate education on distractions and professionalism into the curriculum. This education and research throughout the health professions will lead to behavior modification and proper human-to-technology interfacing and lead to enhanced patient safety.

The Institute for Safe Medication Practices recently provided a number of practice recommendations for medication administration. These include:

(i) establishing a no interruption zone (NIZ);

(ii) ensuring a do-not-disturb approach;

(iii) providing staff education;

(iv) determining the best time for necessary interruptions;

(v) creating checklists;

(vi) managing mobile devices;

(vii) making system improvements;

(viii) managing alerts, alarms, and noise; and

(ix) gathering supplies prior to prescribing, preparing, or administering medication. 

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The ability to shift our attention away from negative experiences is also helpful outside of a hospital setting. Distractions can help us cope with the pains of everyday life. Research on how distractions can be used to control our urges and impulses shows that certain games can help reduce cravings for fatty foods and even addictive drugs. Researchers suspect the cognitive demands of these games redirect our attention away from craving triggers, reducing the painful urge to indulge. Playing matching puzzle games like Candy Crush, Puzzle Blocks, or Interlocked might actually help us distract ourselves away from digging into that pint of ice cream in the fridge.

Distractions can also help us stay fit. Research suggests taking our minds off the pain of physical exercise, with music or television, can improve performance and endurance.

Digital distractions and personal technology can help us be stronger at the moment, they can also help us develop our ability to take on challenges in the future. Certain personal technologies can help us build up our courage, and games are a particularly good way to boost our self-efficacy — our confidence in our ability to overcome problems.

Actually digital games are powerful tools to build strength and confidence because …Constantly escalating challenges requires a willingness from [patients] to keep trying, even when they fail. It instills a belief that if they keep practicing and learning if they put in the hard work, they will eventually be able to achieve more difficult goals. By attempting and overcoming challenges within a game, the cancer patients strengthened their perseverance to keep fighting.

Other digital games have been used to help patients with asthma, diabetes, anxiety, and ADHD; all showing increases in self-efficacy and self-care behavior after playing. More evidence that games can heal is emerging from new digital health platforms that use game-based elements to increase patient participation.

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Clearly, distractions can help us deal with pain and build our courage to tackle future challenges. However, don’t distractions pull us away from our priorities? What about the many products and services, like video games and social media sites, designed to be so good we want to use them all the time? Sometimes we have trouble limiting their use and find ourselves sucked into distractions.

Whether personal technology distractions are a force for good, depends on why and how we use them. “Do you play to escape your real life, or do you play to make you are real-life better?”

There are two modes for how we engage with distracting activities: self-suppression and self-expansion.

Self-suppression is using distractions to avoid negative experiences; while self-expansion is using distractions to promote positive ones. It sounds simple enough, but at times, it is hard to tell the difference between the two. The same activity could be expansive for one person and suppressive for another. It all depends on why the person is engaging in the distraction and for how long.

How can you tell if a distraction is good or bad for you? asking yourself, “Why am I doing this?” If your response is to avoid a negative feeling such as “Because work is boring,” or “I don’t want to deal with anything right now,” the distraction may be self-suppressive.

Of course in some instances, such as burn victims or children about to go into surgery, distractions can be an effective coping strategy. However, these are justified in that the distractions are used as a temporary solution. Once the patient is healed physically, they no longer require the escape from pain.

However, problems can arise when distractions become a permanent escape from an uncomfortable reality. So solutions that don’t build our ability to deal with pain in the future. Temporary distractions used for too long may backfire because Over time self-suppression actually diminishes our sense of self-efficacy … We no longer see ourselves as people who can effectively solve our own problems. When we rely on pain-relieving distractions, be it personal technology, drugs, or other escapes, we may never build our capacity to deal with a painful situation, either physical or psychological.

In contrast, self-expansive distractions involve achieving goals, building skills, or attaining new knowledge that can be used over the long-term. These distractions help us improve ourselves and can build self-efficacy.

For example, answers to the question “Why am I doing this?” that sound like, “I want to learn a new language,” “I want to build a bigger career network,” “I want to know more about my health,” or “I want to improve my well-being,” are the kind of answers that a self-expansive technology can help with. Using distractions with an expansive mindset builds strength while using them with a suppressive one simply shields us from the pain we are avoiding.

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Watching TV during exercise: it may seem mindless to watch TV while you run or climb stairs, the fact is that your mind has trouble focusing on more than one large thing. And, when your mind isn’t focused your body can easily slip into autopilot. That usually means you stay at the same comfortable pace your whole workout. Although you might think that’s what you want, you won’t be getting nearly the workout or benefits you would be if your head was in the game. By switching up your speed and paying attention to intervals in a routine you’ll burn more fat, improve heart health, and maintain muscle. But all those intervals take focus. So, switch off the TV and listen up.

Bad posture: Practically any workout you can think of needs complete attention to producing results. Sacrificing proper posture also means you won’t be using all of the muscles you intend to, so you can say goodbye to those coveted overall results.

Back Strain: Every part of your body is constantly working together—even more so when you’re physically active. That being said, when you start using your arms to hold a phone, tablet, or book, other body parts have to compensate for their usual swinging, momentum-giving motion. The one that has to pick up that slack? Your back. On top of now being less stable, you’re adding a slight twist to your back. Both of these lead to back strain.

Tight Muscles: Think about it: You’re jogging on the treadmill, checking your email or a message pops up on your mobile. Instantly, your mind and body go into stress-mode because of distraction. Instinctively, your muscles tighten, which is especially dangerous when working out. While muscle tension itself isn’t dangerous, going too long without releasing it can make you feel tight and block blood flow to the body. Even worse if you’re too distracted to notice it.

Slow reaction time: While walking on a road or while crossing we are look forward and eyes straight ahead. This should in no way change when you enter the gym. While doing cardio especially, it’s paramount that you look forward, not up or down at distractions. When you do the latter, you risk confusing your body and its reactions. The stress it then goes through trying to deal can lead to various problems.

Injury Risk: Whether you’re getting it going on the treadmill, with weights, or even with your own body, you’re constantly using heavy machinery (or large muscle groups) that requires your full attention. In each of these cases, you need to be aware of multiple things including good form, pace, posture, and how to actually use the tool you’re working with. Keeping all of this in mind is hard enough—let’s not add keeping up with office work, or politics, or your social life to the list. Doing so could lead to mindlessly falling, twisting, pulling, and straining.

Following are a few workplace distractions:-

  1. Noise ( open office concept )
  2. Smartphone
  3. Multitasking
  4. Interruptions
  5. Clutter
  6. Hunger
  7. Anxiety
  8. Emails
  9. Chatting Apps
  10. Decision Fatigue
  11. Meetings
  12. Social Media. 


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Following tips ( indirectly related to health ) will help you to stay focused by managing distractions –

A. Check up on yourself – Distractions can be internal as well as external, so start by looking within. If you’re all over the place, ask yourself what’s really going on. What’s the source of your flightiness or anxiety? What do you need to be working on in your life?

B. Pinpoint the cause – Once you have your internal priorities sorted out, look at more external causes. Is it your office setup? An intrusive co-worker? A lack of skill, ideas, or time for something you need to be doing? Burnout? When you can identify the cause, you can fix the effect.

C. Be Prepared – All successful leaders are great planners; they make lists for every major and minor objective. When a task comes your way, spend some time thinking about how you will accomplish it. Write down every step necessary from start to finish, with a timeline (even if it’s a rough one). There is a saying that every 10 minutes you spend on planning saves an hour in execution.

D. Go Offline – Some of the biggest sources of distraction come from email, social media, and cell phones. If you want real focus, take yourself offline until you’ve accomplished what you need to do.

E. Give yourself a break – One of the keys to doing great work is to know when to take a break. When you start to feel distracted, take a break, and then reassess and refocus yourself. It doesn’t just act as a reward–a short break can help your mind become clearer.

F. Turn it out – One of the best ways to tune everything out is to tune into the music. When everything around you is distracting, put on your headphones–find something that can serve as background music rather than music that holds your full attention. Music can help you concentrate, and the headphones signal others that you’re not available to chat.

G. Break it down – Especially when distractions are high, make tasks smaller, and break down your large projects into smaller tasks to help you concentrate and give you a sense of accomplishment and progress.

H. Clean it up – What’s the state of your office or workspace? If it’s dirty, disorganized, or cluttered, invest some time in clearing it out so you can focus.

I. Set a deadline – If you’re working on a complex task, it takes an average of 90 minutes to accomplish anything worthwhile–and about 30 minutes just to get your mind on the task. Once you are in the flow, set a concentrated period of time–and when the time runs out, stop. It’s easier to stay focused when you have an end in sight.

J. Become an early bird – This is a simple thing, but the rewards are great if you can pull it off: Start your workday an hour before everyone else. Use that hour to organize your day and to get started before there are any distractions. Similarly, skip the long office lunches most days and instead give yourself a short break to take a walk or clear your head, with something light and nutritious to keep your blood sugar steady. You’re literally giving yourself time and energy.


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