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Stress and screen time - interview with Dr. Jim Lyall founder Hannes Bend: It is a great pleasure speaking with you as a renowned mental health expert, Dr. Jim Lyall. You have been a practicing clinical psychologist in Northeast Ohio for over 40 years. Through your private practices, you have helped hundreds of patients with mental health challenges including anxiety, depression and emotional issues.

I am especially inspired after I learned of your supportive work with people with depression. I started the work on the technology of my startup 8 years ago after transforming my life from years of depression via mindfulness and breathwork. I then researched meditation techniques and visual stimuli with Dr. Michael Posner and other psychology and neuroscience scientists. The work led to the development of technologies that could scale mindfulness more easily.

HB: You have such a vast experience working with people suffering from anxiety and depression over decades, and helping them to improve their living situation. Have you seen an increase in these conditions with the use of technologies and especially screens for work?

If so, do you think the screens and technological usage have contributed to the increase or might be a cause for it? What could be the reasons?

Dr. Jim Lyall: Yes neurotic disorders (anxiety and depression) are on the rise for many reasons and excessive screen time contributes to this.  Increasing screen time detracts from physical movement and activity slowing down body processes in general and encouraging an increase in ideational  activity. Our mind spends a large amount of time thinking and often worriedly ruminating, adding to negative thinking thus increasing depressive and anxious thoughts. A possible approach to deal with this might be to intersperse screen time with moderate physical movement (standing and walking) at regular intervals.  Your app might incorporate a timer that alerts the user to take a physical break every half hour or so.

HB: Are there novel "bad habits" people have been taking on? Do you recommend any ways to turn them into "good habits"?

DJL: Habits are simply repetitive ingrained activities; they can be positive or negative depending on the outcome.  Non-stop screen time can easily become a bad habit resulting in fatigue as well as depression and anxiety. The first step in dealing with any emotional concern is to increase awareness of the activity.  Increased awareness takes the behavior out of the habit range into a conscious level thus allowing us to do something about it. Your app by its very existence helps the user be aware of his screen usage and behaviors. Logs pointing out screen time usage can help users make their own goals to decrease screen time activity.

HB: Do you think there are novel conditions that intensive technological and screen usage caused or magnified? US workers have an average of about 6.5 hours of screen time for work, and more for personal reasons. The current average screen time is between 10 to 11 hours. What are simple techniques you recommend that can help people using screens intensively? Do you have a top 5 or top 10 list of simple and short exercises or habits people can practice during their daily screen time?

DJL: Please see the podcast episode “Kicking A Bad Habit! Some hints and techniques to kick a bad habit.”

And the episode “Simple Relaxation and Visual Imagery For Problem Solving. Explore your life and options with visual imagery. Contact your inner self.”

HB: What are other habits and exercises you recommend to deal with the many reported symptoms contributing to the high burnout rates (77%) of remote screen workers?

DJL: Reported symptoms (eye strain, etc.) should be clear signs of too much screen time and encouragement by your app to do some physical activity.

HB: You speak about the SCC Technique and how to use the powerful frontal lobe to control maladaptive emotions. Can you please explain to the readers what the technique is?

DJL: The SCC technique is better explained in my podcast "Control your emotions using the SCC technique". [Please see: “Control Your Emotions Using the SCC Technique. Use your powerful frontal lobe to control maladaptive emotions.”]

HB: Do you think technologies, especially novel ones like machine learning, can be used to improve wellbeing? How do you imagine they could be utilized?

DJL: Yes computer learning and apps such as yours can be immensely helpful in offering information on how to deal with problems thus increasing overall wellbeing. As stated earlier, awareness of the problem or behavior is a prerequisite to begin to make changes in one's life.  After awareness then the client must make an internal commitment to do what is necessary to make the change. This is then followed by incremental steps and goals leading to the change and improvement. During the "change phase" the client needs to be aware that change can be slow with many failures.  Persistence ultimately is the "key" for permanent change.

HB: How can we find out more about your work?

DJL: Feel free to use the link to reach my website and podcasts. I see great value in your work and wish you continued success.

HB: Thank you very much for taking the time, Dr. Jim Lyall. We highly recommend your work and believe it could help many people to live a happier life!