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When Technology Addiction Takes Over Your Life

Are you a tangled mess of BlackBerrys, emails, PDAs, iPhones, laptops, and cell phones? Here’s how to untangle your life and find healthy balance.

Hopelessly Addicted to Messaging

A self-diagnosed addict, Hoffman estimates that she receives up to 500 emails and texts a day -- and stubbornly responds to every single one, even at 3 a.m.

"It's a compulsion, like an itch you have to scratch," she says. "Like Pavlov's dog, I hear the bell and I run to the BlackBerry salivating. I think I have carpal tunnel or something. I will keep texting until I'm in pain."

There's something very irresistible about an unopened message, Hallowell says. "You do get a dopamine squirt from accessing your messages. The mail used to come once a day," he says. "Now it comes every second."

There's no shut-off switch, says Beth Feldman, a Westchester, N.Y.-based entrepreneur who juggles a BlackBerry, iPhone, and cell phone from 7 a.m. to midnight and works with clients across different time zones. "There used to be boundaries," she says, "but now there are no boundaries."

This free-for-all frenzy has a real impact on relationships and families, knocking our work-life balance off-kilter.

Feldman, who is also the co-author of Peeing in Peace: Tales and Tips for Type A Moms, has caught herself checking messages during her kids' musical performances and Little League games. Her kids will ask her afterward: "Mommy, why were you on your BlackBerry?"

She is desperately trying to curb her habits. "The minute you see that flashing light, you start thinking, 'Do I need to check it?'" she says. "I'm not a brain surgeon. I'm not involved in life and death matters. I realized I have to draw a line. If I'm watching my kids' performance, it's not the end of the world if I don't return an email."

Why We Need to Rest

These constant interruptions take a toll on our bodies and our mental states.

Feldman suffers from headaches after long days spent staring at the computer screen and putting out fires over her cell phone. "The last thing I want is to put myself at risk for a heart attack," she says. "But if you're not getting away from it enough, it could become dangerous."

Jetsetter Hoffman suffers from insomnia and blames part of it on an obsession with being connected.

"It's like I can't even disconnect to go to sleep," she says.

Multitasking can cause the brain to overheat, like a car engine, says Hallowell. "The brain needs periods to recover, not just sleeping at night," he says, "but during the day, [it needs] periods of rest and recovery. It simply can't run straight out all day long at peak performance."

Type A people, who feel obliged to respond to every email, can work themselves into what Dr. Hallowell dubs the F-State - frantic, frazzled, frenzied. "They get toxic stress and burn up energy rapidly and wastefully," he says. "In that state, they do bad work, lose friends, and lose clients. It's bad for them in every measurable way."

If you don't prioritize, Hallowell says, you'll go in many directions at once and you won't do anything well. "You really need to be very clear about what matters most to you," he says, "It won't happen automatically. If you don't take your time, your time will be taken from you."

He adds: "If you de-stress, if you prioritize, everything gets better -- your physical health, your longevity, your enjoyment of life."

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